Lessons from an Undergrad Women’s Health Class : I’m guilty


One of the general education requirements involves me taking a health class. So, this semester I have been taking a women’s health class.

Twice a week at 9 am I file into a usually stuffy room with my classmates, primarily young Latinas.

At first I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the instructor was a woman of color. That sigh was very short lived.

While much of the class so far has focused on emotional, mental health and self improvement, I often find myself wonder in my women’s health class if I’m in class or a 1950’s sex ed class strongly emphasizing the gender binary and Christian morals.

According to my teacher, a woman of color, men and women act in very prescribed ways and relationships between the genders (she sees only two) are good if each understands how the mind of each innately function.

Some examples of things she has said:

Women are good multi-taskers.

Women naturally nag and this hurts the self-esteem of men.

Men are simple.

Women are complicated.

Women are so hormonal

women are so insecure

Women need women friends because you can never be sure that a male friend doesn’t want to sleep with you.

While my teacher hasn’t outright expressed her religion, it’s obvious where her values are. She has shown “motivational” videos that teach the value of positive thinking even in tough circumstances. While none of the videos mention God or Jesus, the organizations that put out the videos are all Christian like the Foundation for a Better Life.

Some other messages I have heard in class:

Sex before marriage is a mistake.

Sexual pleasure has no part of self-worth

I don’t know how many young single moms there are in my class. I know I was a young single mom and even though I have been at the mami’hood things for a while, her messages to young moms struck me.

In one class the teacher said that being a young unmarried mom is a mistake but those that fell or fall into that category shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much.

“It’s spilled milk,” (no pun intended on her part – I think)

In the last class I attended ( I skipped a class to watch my little one receive a medal for getting on the honor roll ) she said

“Do things right, do not give your body if you are not married and if you are guilty – we’re not here to judge you.”

So children of unwed moms are accidents to be “cleaned up”.

I and many others “did things wrong” and are “doing things wrong” by having sex outside of marriage.

But my guilty ass shouldn’t feel judged.
Great messages for young women no?

Full Time Woman of Color Returning Student Blues


I’m in my second semester as an undergraduate student. It’s not my first second semester. It’s been almost 17 years since I first attended college as a fresh eager young adult and I can remember my second semester of my first year at a New England liberal arts school as a scholarship student also working three jobs on campus. A lot of the stressors are the same. I didn’t find the work particularly difficult, there was just a lot of it back then. I had to balance papers, readings, class discussions with work back then. Now, I’m juggling a full course load while with a few freelance gigs here and there, while balancing taking care of a family and a home. There’s a reason why I think it’s good to go to school when you’re younger. You generally have more energy. The physical drain of going to classes is felt so much more in my 36 year old body.

But there is something else. The first second semester of my undergraduate education felt hard because I felt isolated as a student of color from the city in a mostly white  suburban environment. I was dorming with roommates who felt threatened by my involvement in political causes like the working against police brutality and speaking out about the Puerto Rican political prisoners. My dorm room altar to the ancestors and Orishas scared them. My music annoyed them. It didn’t feel safe for me the way they felt unsafe around me and my ethnic markers.

Privileged white students bothered me then, when I was 18 and 19 years old I wrapped myself in the comfort of my community in New York City that I could always return to and who would send me care packages of news clippings of rallies and other events I was physically missing but was connected to.

Here, I am far from my home of New York City again but by choice. My community here is my little blended family in our house in the hood, my small circle of mostly women of color friends, and my years of experience as an activist and writer which I always draw strength and inspiration from.

It’s funny though, how in higher ed, even if its a community college setting while I wait for my old credits to transfer over so I can finish my Bachelor’s degree at a four year college, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to the low expectations set for students of color and the blatant display of privileged temper tantrums coming from certain students when confronted with the ugly reality that has always lived outside their sheltered doors.

In my journalism class, where few know of my extensive work as an independent media maker, I was told, in front of my class of mostly young Chicano students how ambitious I was for daring to say I intended to transfer to a private university. In that same class, I was given a backhanded compliment, told my writing was so good they had to check and make sure it wasn’t plagiarized because of my extensive vocabulary. When I’ve gone out to do interviews for the student newspaper, I am complimented on my professionalism and on doing my homework when asking questions. These compliments have come from professors and students alike.

Is so little expected of certain college students that good work is praised in a coded way that repeats stereotypes of what students of color are capable of?

In English class, where we are having discussions on privilege, today there was a small backlash from some white women who resented having to read texts that critiqued the growing gap between classes and how that was connected to race, gender, and sexuality.

They actually defended the idea that not every child could have clean, safe playgrounds and protested what they felt was an attack, by a woman of color author whom they met only as ink in the class textbook.

“It’s not my fault I have a $500 bag.”

“It’s not my fault my parents gave me a car,”

“There are so many opportunities for single mothers like food stamps and financial aid.”

“What do you mean every parent can’t buy their child a microscope to play with?”

I thought that as a 36 year old woman these things would be easier to hear coming from the mouths of young students. Part of me just wanted to shake my head and dismiss the above actual comments as a result of youthful privileged innocence. But as a 36 year old woman, I also know better. I know the adults some of these students will become. They will become the politicians, the pundits, the doctors I take my kids to with my their Medi-Cal card who speak down to me assuming I won’t understand their jargon.

I want to do a better job at documenting these experiences. There is so much talk about ensuring that young students of color succeed in higher education without real consideration about how lowered expectations and stereotypes do so much damage that cannot be fully measured in dropout and retention rates. I want to document these experiences not just as a therapeutic exercise for myself, as my writing always has been, but also as a call for reflection and discussion among students, academics and would be  higher ed students.

My teenage daughter and stepson are both looking at colleges with excitement and I’m sure a little bit of apprehension. I want good, challenging experiences for them that will raise them up, not make them further doubt themselves.

People don’t say poor students of color can’t do well outright. It’s much more coded now in the language of common core standards and long standing practices of underfunding now hidden under the guise of school choice and new tracking that asks students to deny their languages and cultures.
I’m privileged to be experiencing higher ed again but as an adult woman of color with a rich arsenal of experiences under her belt, I can see things that so many can’t or won’t. Out of this privilege comes a sense of responsibility to speak up and shine a light on this system. I don’t know what will come out of it but here I go.

Loving Each Other Harder in Academia and Beyond

The view from one of my classes last semester.

The view from one of my classes last semester.

There is no other choice. 2013 reminded us of that. Projects like #FemFuture, roundtables where absence shouted louder than words, forums that threatened the bodies, hearts and minds of women of color affirmed what those of us connected in person and through keyboards have known historically, have historically carried in our blood, that loving one another and ourselves as hard as we can at any given moment is our very survival.

When I tweeted to my dear herman@ BlackAmazon in April of last year that we needed to love each other harder in the face of the violence of erasure and making invisible, those were more than words. It is a practice. It is negotiating complicated relationships with one another and the world we have to face everyday. It’s more than just public love letters back and forth. It’s everything in between. Everything that is not seen or not publicized. It is aching feet from retail battling with itchy hands wanting to write, tongues anxious to speak.

Now those words – chosen carefully: loving each other harder is an event, The 2nd Women of Color Student Conference (formerly the Women of Color Student Summit) of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

This raised so many mixed feelings in me. I was honored and humbled that my words and feelings were connected to something larger.   I was a student of color in a four-year university environment. I remember how hard it was. My survival there was based on relationships that I built with other women of color. Those women were fellow students and there were also faculty who faced discrimination from students, from faculty and from the administration.

While it was not the hostile environment that ultimately caused me to leave that institution it certainly played a role. As a first year student in the New England liberal arts college I was harassed because of the music I listen to because of how I spoke because of where I came from and because of people’s perception of all the aforementioned. The fact that I chose not to shrink back into invisibility, the fact that I chose to fight back through being active on the campus by being outspoken by creating events and performing poetry, by defending professors of color who were not given tenure, by hosting events on colonialism including the Puerto Rican political prisoners and my hourly manifesting in my dorm room my culture, my history, and my spiritual beliefs and practices made me more target. I was a threat. I was so much of a threat that my roommates essentially got me kicked out of my dorm at the end of my first year. I left after the first semester of my second year.

From the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus:

Loving Each Other Harder will continue and expand upon those themes, and provide an[MO1]  opportunity for attendees to examine these ideas in the context of intersectionality. What are the multiple identities of women of color? How do they affect the learning, leading and living experiences of women of color students, particularly at predominantly white institutions (PWIs)? How do these identities affect how women of color see and work with one another?

16 years later I returned to school to continue where I left off. I didn’t return to a four year, predominantly white institution. I returned to a community college that was predominantly people of color. Right now I am applying to transfer to a four year predominantly white institution. I wonder what that will look like for me – my multiple identities: NYRican, mami, returning/non-traditional/not young, working etc. How will I work with and see the other students? How will they see me? The fact that the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus is hosting such an event, for the second year in a row, shows me what I have heard from so many others, that little has changed for women of color since I left college 16 years ago.

I know I am not the only one with these questions, which is why I welcome the space that the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is creating. I hope that the space will be replicated beyond a once a year a conference and be integrated into the daily work of that university and others. It is needed, for me, for others.

Not Gifted Nor Talented but sure as Hell Brilliant


Last week I took the ChileRicans to Los Angeles for Easter Break and to meet their soon to be house and hood in City Terrace. Meanwhile in New York City, life went on. At least to the extent that the New York City Department of Education sent out the results from Gifted and Talented Testing.

Now, I didn’t take this test too seriously. Poroto, had just turned five when the exam was given in January and had been in a two and a half hour a day Pre-K public school class for less than four months. We did one practice test so that she wouldn’t be surprised and that was it. I didn’t stress about the first of many test she would be subjected to in her academic career. In fact, I felt kind of fucked up about my decision to sign her up for the test. Was I one of those mothers? You know the kind who worry about if their pre-schooler will get into an ivy league college.

I’m not really one of those mothers but the sad truth is that the current education system requires our children to participate in high stakes testing in order to advance so I saw no harm in introducing her to the idea of testing in as stress free a way as possible. Which wasn’t that possible.

Do they want me to read? I don’t know how to read.
Do they want me to write? I’m just learning to write my name.

These were the questions 5 year old Poroto wanted to know. When I assured her that she didn’t have to read or write, just answer some questions, look at pictures, and puzzles, she was OK. It helped that her closest friends were also taking the test. One of these friends was being prepared quite extremely. After drop off when her mother and I would walk a little together, she would ask what preparations I was engaging in with Poroto for the test. When I told her we weren’t really, she seemed shocked and then began to list all the books her and her husband were using and how they had spent $500 or so on test prep materials. Wow. Even if I took the test as a serious determining factor in the future of my kid, I certainly did not have $500 to spend on test prep materials. Hell I don’t even have $500 in the bank.

Test day itself was uneventful. Poroto wasn’t nervous when a stranger to her teacher took her in a classroom in an unfamiliar school. I think the parents who sat in the auditorium were more nervous. I typed away on my laptop watching the minutes and the doorway. By the time she came back, her father had joined me in vigil and he took her for their usual weekend visit and business carried on.

Was the test hard?
Do you think she did well?
Did they tell you the results?

The $500 test prep parents asked me the Monday following the test. I didn’t have much to tell them since I hadn’t seen the test, hadn’t pressed Poroto for details or asked if any of the questions confused her. I wanted the experience to be a Saturday morning activity. As for the results. Well those wouldn’t come in the mail for months and I was not going to be waiting by the mailbox for them either.

Last week I received an email informing me that Poroto had not qualified for placement in the gifted and talented program. I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her father. They wouldn’t know what it meant or didn’t mean anyway. In fact, aside from a tweet I made yesterday, I haven’t told anyone till now. I sure as hell didn’t tell the $500 test prep mother who told me how her daughter had been offered placement and now her dilemma was if she should send her 5 year old to attend kindergarten in a top yet controversial school in Manhattan, an hour’s commute away, or stay at a closer school with a good reputation. I reassured her that with support and love her child would turn out fine regardless of where she went.

You have a point

I have a point.

This afternoon, as I made last minute suggestions to nervous 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders on the eve of their state-wide high stakes English Language Arts exam, my five year old was making a model of the life cycle of the butterfly out of this sticky slime she received in one of her Easter baskets. She proudly explained the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly in all it’s slimy glory displayed on a wood table that would certainly be stained.

My point exactly.

This Shit Ain’t Radical Anymore : Tutoring for (Not) Fun & (Little) Profit


When I started tutoring, I did it inside of my daughter’s elementary school and I did it as part of my organizing work within the school – working with immigrant and non-English dominant families to ensure access to information. I did it on a volunteer basis and worked with recent immigrant English Language Learners (ELL’s as per NYC Dept. of Ed.). While many of the immigrant parents I worked with were Latinos. The majority of the children I worked with on reading so that they could test out of the ESL program were Indian. The Indian community where I live are predominantly part of a tight knit Ismaili community. Word got around and before I knew it was tutoring out of my mom’s kitchen.

As a single mom – then raising one, now raising two daughters, this seemed perfect. I could take care of my daughters, be with them, work with my local community and make some money.

I think I tried to insert too much importance into what I should have just looked at as a job. I was especially excited by the fact that the majority of the young people I was working with were young women of color. I imagined having some sort of influence, seeing myself as a mentor I would have liked to have growing up. I imagined what would have been like to understand racism, sexism, colonialism growing up and not painfully crashing into it the way I did as 16 year old.

Of course all of this was to be done within the prescribed NYC DOE curriculum. My students would improve their grades in school, pass all their high stakes assessments, but they would also get support from bullying, family concerns, and engage in critical thinking with and about what they were learning in a way that the current high stakes standards don’t really allow for anymore.

For a while I really felt it was working. Felt like I was contributing something. My students did do well and we also went beyond the curriculum talking about politics, faith, sexuality, gender, community, art, visions and dreams. I felt this was especially important as many of my students transitioned from elementary school, into middle school, and high school. Hell my first student ever, a young man, always greets me in the streets and tells me how college is. This makes me feel happy (but also old).

But as I enter my what, 7th year of tutoring, I am growing disheartened. I am seeing/feeling especially as my students grow older, that unless I am working with the same vision as the parents/schools my work may not have the importance/impact I once imagined. My pareja says that sometimes, in this capitalist system we look for/invent more meaning when it comes to our work when in reality it is just labor/a service. Hearing this made me sad to the point of tears but it also felt/feels really true.

None of my students named helping to create a better world/helping their community among their goals but nearly all of them named being rich as one of their goals. Since I can’t quantify my students’ success beyond the grades/test scores they get in school, my assignments/suggestions are not followed up on. This means that my students still don’t read the newspaper or follow the news via any medium, so generally they have no idea what is happening in the world around them, or even in the city in which they live. They won’t make vocabulary or grammar study cards so that it takes a high school student from one of the best schools in the city/country two hours to read and understand two pages of a book because she doesn’t know what most of the words mean. The students and parents know I am a (sorta) single mother with two kids of my own I am helping guide through this world and yet I feel the disrespect from these two parent families everytime they cancel at the last minute, pick up/drop their child off late, have unreasonable expectations of me (i.e. checking homework via email at 11 pm), and don’t even bother to look at their kids’ work.

Maybe work cannot be radicalized. Maybe work is just work, a way to feed yourself and your family. Maybe I need to be real about my role in this fucked up market/education system. Maybe all I can do is give these kids and their parents what they expect – better grades. Maybe I need to let everything else go and focus on how my life – with my daughters, through my writing, with my pareja, y family and my community – be where the change happens.

As I focus my energies on shifting – moving – physically and spiritually – maybe I need to let go of certain visions if they aren’t shared.

The Mami’Hood Goes Back to School


Call this a state of temporary bliss. A gift.

I am sitting in a cafe in the middle of the day – ok it’s really a chain restaurant that offers free wifi- but don’t ruin the image.

I’m sitting in a cafe in the middle of the day with an iced coffee and my fingers tapping away. My four year old is not pestering me to play a Dora game on the computer or to play with her princess toys. My 14 year old isn’t asking for the computer so she can update her very serious role play where the future of genetically modified vampire clone warriors is at stake.

It’s back to school time.

I never wanted to be one of those mamis, the ones in the commercials who joyfully run through the aisles of the office supply store because they are getting rid of their kids for a few hours pero here I am.

On Thursday, La Mapu started high school (!!!). She had to commute via the subway for an hour and go through a metal detector (Oh thank you NYPD secured DOE public schools). But despite her worry and mine (none of us slept very much the night before), she made it and actually liked it. She scored a new friend (a young woman who has never been to school before). Getting la Mapu into high school was a nearly two year process that involved tests, open houses, interviews and essays. I’m pleased that the hard work we both had to put in was well worth it (so far) pero the fact that we had to go through such a process pisses me off.

The only thing that pissed me off more than the high school application process was the Pre-K application process. Really wanting Poroto to attend a full day public school program meant putting myself through two lotteries, none which yielded ideal results. In this second round of the NYC Public School Pre-K lottery- Poroto was on of 46 percent or so that got a spot. She didn’t get a spot in our neighborhood. Nor did she get a full day spot. On Thursday I stood in a crowd of people outside her assigned school for over an hour- in the rain, with poroto. El Chileno came with thinking it would be a quick process, but he left to go to work. Clearly this was mami’hood business.

Once I made it inside the school, I was given a number (17), a stack of papers to fill out and we waited…….for two more hours. We sat through one assembly listening to the new principal of the school tell first and second graders that they were in school because President Obama wanted them to get good jobs and make a lot of money. We then sat though a second assembly where the principal told students that in the halls they should be “still, silent, and straight”. Umm yeah this was when I was ready to walk out and say fuck pre-k. Poroto – who napped and was more patient and quiet than I have ever seen her- begged me to wait a few more minutes because she really wanted to go to school. So I waited and finally our number was called.

The actual registering was fast. I had all my papers in order. The only confusion I caused was by checking off that my daughter was Latina and not white. With half an hour to spare before her first class, Poroto was an official public school Pre-K student.

Asking her, she’ll tell her her first day was boring, because I had to sit with her for orientation, making the grand total of hours spent in a public elementary school yesterday 5 and a half.

Pero back to today – with me sitting in a chain restaurant cafe, finishing my iced coffee, almost not annoyed by the ambient noise around me (note to self – next time do not forget your headphones), finishing a personal blog post! I left Poroto at Pre-K land’s special door. She didn’t cry. In fact we both skipped away happily in opposite directions, excited about the changes in our lives.

(PS – please consider donating to Poroto’s panderia fund which I will be renaming Mala’s cafe writing fund).

(PPS- I need to find a place where I can have a glass of wine while Poroto is in Pre-K. That will make this even more fun)

Do Not Feel Sorry for (me) Us


When I sat down next to your desk, with it’s neatly placed photographs of your daughter on her wedding day, I wanted to hear your take on the grade that went down. I already knew though. I knew that you, like every other teacher I had sat with that day, would say, “She’s so smart but..”

She’s always writing stories

She’s always planning what she will write in those stories

She’s always working on something besides her school work

And this you see as her failure, not yours

my failure, not yours

Our living arrangements, extended family supporting one another is suspect, not a successful example of community and love.

My work, writing/teaching/fighting is seen as not being attentive enough to her needs instead of modeling what working to love, not just to merely live looks like.

You said it was sad, sad that her internal meditations spilled on paper in ink were mistaken as a suicide note because you couldn’t believe that brown chic@s like her, whose name you still refuse to pronounce correctly, can/want (t0) write novels about other brown chic@s engaged in science and magic and saving themselves instead of waiting for you to demonstrate how to fill in a bubble for the right answer.

You said you felt sorry for me.

That made you stand apart and set you up as someone who like the elementary school principal who once looked at my hija and told her not to grow up to be like me, me with my big bilingual mouth and and my not fit for motherhood pink hair.

Ella, will no be like me, pero tampoco will she be like you. She already is the person she will be.

What Do We Tell/Show the Children?


Holy winter break batman. When the kids are off from school, I barely have any physical space to myself, let alone mental space to process things out via typed text. In the space I occupy with my daughters, this space between Egypt, Libya, Puerto Rico, Bahrain, Algeria and Yemen, I have woken up on many mornings wondering how, what do we tell/show our children about movement(s), justice, and responsibility?

In the space I occupy with my children somewhere between Egypt, Puerto Rico, Libya, Bahrain y Algeria, in the same country as Arizona, Mississippi and Wisconsin, they bear witness from afar. And when I speak of my children, I am not just speaking of my biological daughters but of the community who sit almost daily at my mother’s kitchen table. I read aloud from the news. Pull out maps and point to these places.

My children are movement children. You can ask my mom and sister, who still laugh at the fact that La Mapu’s first full sentence was “No Justice, No peace”. Poroto, has traded in her “si se puedes” for “Egypt, Egypt, Egypt”. La Mapu has taken a renewed interest in one of her patrias, Puerto Rico, one afternoon surprising me by asking aloud from my mother’s living room as she watched cartoons, “how do the liberation struggles in the Middle East translate to the student struggles in Puerto Rico?”

I nearly cried with pride.

While she fought with her sister on the floor of Julia de Burgos in El Barrio, I noted she argued because she wanted to pay attention. She was watching the videos I have been watching and reporting on for months, of Puerto Rican students getting beaten, tear gassed and sexually assaulted. She was paying attention, on her own terms.

I stopped forcing la Mapu to meetings, conferences and rallies as soon as she was old enough to stay a few hours by herself but she can’t escape that this is the world we live in, impacting loved ones, some whom she has met, some whom she knows through their blogs and twitter avatars. Last night, she cried over the dead in Libya and all I could do was hold her.

But what of the children who are left unaware as I was as a child. When I woke up at age 16 and suddenly realized I had been lied to about history and my role in it, I felt angry, betrayed and motivated. My life has never been the same.

I am participating in an event as a story teller in a local museum in a few weeks. The theme is art and activism. How do I talk with children who don’t witness and navigate these spaces on a daily basis or are like those Central Park horses with their eyes fixed on the tiny camino in front of them, blind to the rest of the world around them that they stand in the middle of?

I have never lied to my children about the struggles that exist in this world. Some of them they experience on their own, some of them through my work/life. But what of the children who are shielded? How to hold their hand slowly, open their eyes slowly so they are not afraid but awakened?

That is the question that has been waking me up for weeks.

I welcome answers/suggestions.

Tales from Radical Tutoring : Why Students Are Not Ready for College


This morning I came across another story proving how the current standards in NY State are continuing to fail our public school students.

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show less than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.
The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students. That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent, a number often promoted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as evidence that his education policies are working.

Many will jump on the loudest bandwagon being led by NYC Schools Head and Bloomberg puppet Cathy Black that says that the answer to this is more school closings and more charter schools.

Except I work with high schoolers from one charter school, one that has been called one of the best in the city and in the country and I can see why students are ill prepared for college and for life in general.

1: Teachers are struggling. Teachers are expected to pass on so much information that conforms to such rigid standards that often they do not have time to actually teach. You know teaching, explaining, giving context, drawing connections. Yeah that. It’s why in a Global Studies class you can be talking about Galileo but have a student who has no idea that Florence, Rome, the Vatican, Venice are in Italy, much less find Italy on a map. Oh and since when did they start calling the Protestant Reformation “the reform”?

2: Testing but no basics. What the hell happened to grammar? How about teaching students to write a proper paper? What about teaching students how to figure out is a source is reliable? How about vocabulary? Isn’t there still a section on the SAT on vocabulary? What I have seen is an effort to keep up with standards and paperwork is too much reliance on new technology that requires no thinking. I see English papers that are not checked for grammar. One of my high school students in her 6 months in school has had one, 1, grammar lesson, which consisted of her memorizing definitions of different grammar characteristics. I see a reliance on the internet but not in a meaningful way. Students are told to use Wikipedia and other online sources without being taught how to check for accuracy, slant, relevance. And do not get me started on vocabulary. Most of the students rely on online dictionaries to give them half awareness of words. So when they read a novel my Toni Morrison, for example, they barely scratch the surface because they barely understand. Some people say that paper dictionaries are obsolete but I have one out with all of my students and I make them use it and use words in sentences and context.

3: Critical Thinking and Connection. These high school students have no idea what is happening in Egypt. They don’t know who their governor is. They read the Bluest Eye in write a paper that not once mentions the word race. The current standards isolate students to their world and from really engaging with literature and other sources of information. It makes me want to bang my head against the wall, really, especially when it comes to the Humanities.

I sit with these students anywhere from 2 hours to 8 hours a week. The schools have them for that much each day my underpaid ass is filling in the huge gaps that the NYC Dept. of Ed has created and it pisses me off and worries me.

The Kids are Not Fucking Alright


Confession : La Mapu is no longer in public school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about this but I do. I feel a little bad that my 13 year old, who was wait-listed for numerous charter middle schools she wanted to go to, goes to a Catholic school thanks to my mom. I’m also a little embarrassed that we applied to so many charter middle schools and that now have applied to numerous charter public high schools. I’m a little ashamed because I don’t believe the hype about charter schools. I don’t think that they are automatically better than district zoned schools when it comes to education. In fact scratch that, I know that they are not better. But yet, the zoned public middle school for my daughter is huge, and overcrowded and I worry about her getting lost and swallowed up as I/we fight the system.

These are not easy choices and these are not easy times when it comes to education and so-called choice.

All of the students I tutor are in public schools in NYC, in “good” public schools, in “good” neighborhoods. The High School kids are in charter schools. I am intimately aware of the curriculum and the work and in the end the fucking failure the system as it is structured under the Department of Education is. Because of the concern about the school making the grade, focus has turned to students making the grade, that is passing high stakes exams. And the kids pass and they don’t learn shit except how to take a test. It’s all about shortcuts. That is what they are taught. In what has been named one of the top schools in the city and in the country, the students are not being taught vocabulary but to memorize how to use the words to get good grades on the test. I know this because I check the work and ask the students to explain what this means and they can’t. At a so-called global school, this student told me Cuba was in Europe and has no idea who the Vice-President is.

I was just reading the latest Newsweek featuring an article on “The Real Battle for School Reform”. Battle, war, closing down schools, firing teachers, forcing bullshit standards and new fangled ways of learning math (I sound like a vieja – I know), pero this reform movement from where I sit, isn’t working.

Everyday I sit and do what in many ways the teachers inside the schools can’t do- actually teach. And in many ways I don’t blame the teachers. They are in a bad/trapped situation with administrators breathing down their necks making sure they follow every rule not that the kids actually learn. I have had conversations with teachers about this and they feel trapped, stuck and frustrated but the “reform movement” blames the teachers. Then there is the underlying blaming of the parents who aren’t involved enough, who don’t understand enough, who don’t speak English well enough. As if parents weren’t struggling enough, especially in communities like mine, immigrant, POC communities. Let’s not talk about how race, class, and religious prejudice play into all of this.

Soon, I will have to do it all over again for the soon to be four year old for UPK. Applications, forms. I’m smarter this time around. I may not admit to to speaking Spanish or that we are a bilingual household even as I chat away with my vecinas, after all it was this admission which tracked my now 13 year old in ESL for a year because she couldn’t read English (or Spanish for that matter- she was fucking 5).

Everyday I sit, with my kids and the kids of others and go through homework, what happened in school, current events and personal development. Some days there are beautiful breakthroughs, other days I want to give up. One of my high school students, one who attends one the “best” charter schools wrote an essay blaming individuals for their obesity and giving corporations a free pass. I introduced the concepts of food justice, access issues, and food desserts, not to mention money and commericialism. I am not sure she was convinced but it’s not my job to convince her but rather offer real options, information, and choice not zero sum options.

If only this school reform movement could get on that too.