In Mike’s playborhood, kids take risks

Children jump from the playhouse roof to the trampoline in Mike Lanza’s backyard in Menlo Park, CA. Photo: Holly Andres/New York Times.

As the “anti-helicopter parent,” Mike Lanza has turned his Silicon Valley home into a not-very-safe play zone, writes Melanie Thernstrom in the New York Times Magazine. He wants his three “boys to have a normal childhood, while complaining that his idea of normal is no longer normal.”

Kids need a chance to play outdoors, their own way, Lanza believes. Neighborhood kids are welcome to play in his yard at any time — without an adult to supervise.

Central to Mike’s philosophy is the importance of physical danger: of encouraging boys to take risks and play rough and tumble and get — or inflict — a scrape or two. Central to what he calls mom philosophy (which could just be described as contemporary parenting philosophy) is just the opposite: to play safe, play nice and not hurt other kids or yourself.

“His free-time-is-for-goofing-around ethos is particularly anomalous in Silicon Valley,” writes Thernstrom, whose kids were preschool classmates of Lanza’s youngest boy. The area is full of “former engineers, executives and other highly educated women who have renounced work in favor of what they call uber-parenting.”

. . . .  parents think they should be producing model kids, optimized kids, kids with extra capacity and cool features: kids who have start-ups (or at least work at one); do environmental work in the Galápagos; speak multiple languages; demonstrate a repeatable golf swing; or sing arias. To a comical extent, parents here justify the perverted ambition through appeals to research (enlarging the language center of the brain and so forth) while ignoring research on the negative effects on children of being micromanaged.

A high-tech entrepreneur, Lanza is the author of Playborhood and writes a blog on turning neighborhoods into communities where kids can play outside.

I’ve walked past the Lanza house, which is in a lovely, expensive neighborhood near Stanford. I also did some freelance editing for his wife (who is not that happy about her kids playing on the roof) years ago.

Why LA’s teacher housing has no teachers

The Sage Park Apartments were built on vacant land near Gardena High School and opened in 2015.School employees — but not teachers — live in the Sage Park Apartments, which opened in 2015. Photo: Los Angeles Times

To retain teachers, Los Angeles Unified built two below-market apartment complexes on district land and is finishing a third. Not one teacher lives in the district’s affordable housing, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Teachers, who start at $50,300 a year, earn too much. Instead, the apartments are occupied by low-paid school employees such as cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and aides.

Federal subsidies used to build the apartments “restricted the units to households that earned 30% to 60% of area median income,” the Times explains.  That’s less than $35,000 a year for a single person.

Diamond Jones, 24, a special education assistant who earns $15 an hour, pays $588 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, less than a third of the market rate.

Who’s blocking the door now?

It’s been 53 years since Gov. George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” to keep blacks out of the University of Alabama.

Affluent white suburbanites want to limit urban charter schools, complain minority parents in Boston. “So far, 194 mainly non-urban school committees statewide have backed resolutions opposing Question 2,” which would lift the cap on charter schools, reports the Boston Herald.

“You are hurting our children — not yours. Do you actually care what happens to little black and brown children? No, you don’t” said Dawn Foye, a Roxbury mother who sends her son to KIPP Academy in Mattapan.

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the nation. Most students come from low-income and working-class Black and Latino families.

Social media feuds become school fights

Teens are using social media to pick and plan school fights, writes Hechinger’s Katy Reckdahl, reporting from New Orleans.

A “huge proportion” of fights have roots in social media, social worker Osha Sempel told Reckdahl.

Beldon Batiste, 15, stands in the doorway to his home, looking out at the street where he was injured last year in a fight that was ignited by online posts. Photo: Sophia Germer

Beldon Batiste, 15, stands in the doorway to his home, looking out at the street where he was injured in a fight ignited by online posts. Photo: Sophia Germer

Last year, some New Orleans educators wondered why fights were starting “as soon as students got off the buses in the morning,” Reckdahl writes. “Then it became clear: when teens feud on social media at night, they arrive at school ready to fight.”

Mondays are a big problem, said Jennifer Pagan, a mediator at West Jefferson High School in a New Orleans suburb. “Kids get on the sofa on Friday and spend the weekend on Snapchat or Kik — their weapons of mass destruction.”

New Orleans PeaceKeepers maintains a “Squash the Beef” hotline. “School becomes the battleground,” said co-founder Willie Muhammad, a teacher. “If someone makes an ugly remark online and an argument ensues, one kid will tell another, ‘Okay, when we get to school tomorrow, I’m going to handle it.”

Keep ‘no excuses’ — and teach self-discipline

Don’t dump “no excuses” discipline, writes Sharif El-Mekki in Education Post. He attended a no-excuses school that taught him self-discipline. Now the father of five, he’s the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia.

growing backlash blames rigid discipline policies for paving the road from school to prison, writes El-Mekki. “Rigidity without love or respect is detrimental to our communities.”

However, he worries the pendulum is swinging too far. “Black families should not have to choose between chaotic or callous schools for their children.”

At his school, families want “no excuses in striving for excellence,” he writes.

What these families don’t want is an intense focus on disciplining students without also motivating their children to be self-disciplined. They expect us to help our students be successful despite any trauma they may have experienced or learning challenges they must overcome. They appreciate that we use restorative justice practices and consider cultural context.

“No excuses” extends to administrators and teachers, writes El-Mekki. “Low expectations are just as damning to our communities as rigidity without love and respect.”

A racist came to Shabbat dinner and now …

Once the “heir” to the white nationalist movement, Derek Black accepted a Jewish classmate’s invitation to Shabbat dinner, made new friends, listened to their arguments and ultimately abandoned his family’s racist beliefs, reports the Washington Post in a remarkable story.

Black’s father created Stormfront to promote white nationalist ideas online; Derek did the child’s version. His godfather is David Duke.

Derek Black Derek Black, 27, was following in his father’s footsteps as a white nationalist leader until he began to question the movement’s ideology. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Derek Black was following in his father’s footsteps as a white nationalist leader until he made liberal friends who changed his views. Photo: Matt McClain/Washington Post

Now, “Black is now a liberal who supports immigration, doesn’t believe race should divide people, and admires President Obama,” writes Reason’s Robby Soave.

Black’s conversion is “a subtle repudiation of the kind of emotional safe space that liberals want to foist on college campuses,” concludes Soave.

After attending community college, Black enrolled in Florida’s liberal New College to study medieval European  history. Despite doing a weekly white-supremacist radio show, he hid his views on campus. But, eventually he was outed.

Most students ostracized him. Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jew, invited Black to his Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.

Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew.

. . . He went back and read some of Derek’s posts on the site from 2007 and 2008: “Jews are NOT white.” “Jews worm their way into power over our society.” “They must go.”

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him.

Black became a regular at the dinner.

Week by week, conversation by conversation, Derek softened his views. His new friends challenged him—firmly but politely—and systematically convinced him that he was wrong about everything.

Eventually, he publicly repudiated white nationalism and apologized for his past actions. Black is now a graduate student in history.

Halloween is too scary for college kids

Is your Halloween costume racist? Does it “appropriate” the culture of another group (Native Americans, Latinos, zombies)?

At U-Mass Amherst, students can check the “threat level” of their costume idea on the “Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter” (S.C.R.E.A.M.) poster.

“If one intends to represent a person on Halloween, the only way to get a ‘green’ threat rating is for the person to be of one’s own race,” reports Campus Reform. “If one represents a person of another race, the ‘threat level’ increases roughly in conjunction with the amount of makeup that one intends to use.”

The flyer also warns about “thing/idea” costumes that reflect “controversial current events or historically accepted cliches,” particularly if “these events or cliches relate to a person or people not of your race.”

One of the displays does give another point of view, reports Campus Reform.

“It’s not fair to ask any culture to freeze itself in time and live as though they were a museum diorama,” one poster quotes author Susan Scafidi. “Cultural appropriation can sometimes be the savior of a cultural product that has faded away.”

Novelist Lionel Shriver defended cultural appropriation at a Melbourne writers’ conference. “I am hopeful that the concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a passing fad,” she said. “People with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.”

I wonder if students will turn to creepy clowns as a safe costume choice this year. On the other hand, there’s a “moral panic” about the threat of clowns on campus, writes Anne Hendershott. Everything’s scary this year.

Educating migrant workers’ kids

Nina Alvarez’s Fields of Promise follows Mireya and her family from California, to Oregon. While her Mexican immigrant parents pick berries, Mireya attends bilingual preschool at Migrant Head Start.

Syrian refugees adjust to U.S. schools

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Samah Hussein, 13, and Abdulraheem Qadour, 11, study English on their laptops at Cajon Valley Middle School. Photo: Christine Armario/AP

Now a student at a suburban San Diego middle school, 12-year-old Abdulhamid Ashehneh thinks about his father, who vanished four years ago, writes Christine Armario for AP.  “Months later, Abdulhamid’s mother boarded a bus with her six children, the youngest 2, and fled to Jordan, the sound of bombs ringing in the distance.”

Cajon Valley Middle School enrolled 76 new Syrian refugees when school started this fall.

In addition to limited English and lost years of schooling, the Syrian children “have seen some pretty nasty stuff,” said Eyal Bergman, a family and community engagement officer for the Cajon Valley Union School District. “But I also see incredible resilience.”

Some refugee students are enrolled in “newcomer” classes where they are provided intense English instruction before being placed in mainstream classrooms. Others go directly into classes with English-fluent peers but are assigned to smaller groups for individual instruction. Teachers are trained in identifying trauma, and on-site counselors help students who need extra attention.

. . . At night, Arabic-speaking staff and teachers hold a “parent academy” where newly arrived moms and dads are given bilingual children’s books in English and Arabic and guided on how to help improve literacy at home.

In the 1970s, Chaldean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq found their way to El Cajon, which is 15 miles east of San Diego. “Those earlier, now established waves of migrants are playing a role in helping settle the new arrivals from Syria,” writes Armario.

Stress, race and the achievement gap

The stress of coping with racism may widen the achievement gap,writes Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic.

Blacks pump out more stress hormones than their white counterparts, researchers have found. That high level of stress can affect concentration, motivation and learning, according to a new Northwestern study.

Image result for racism stress

Zion Agostini, 15, worries about being stopped by police on the way to Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, writes Anderson.

Once he arrives, the sophomore must go through a metal detector. He’s often late to his first-period class “because I’m being scanned four times because of the metal in my necklace or my keys,” he complains. “It does make it extremely hard to focus on the classwork … You’re upset, or sad, or just emotional about what just happened. It takes a while to settle.”

Blacks and Latinos encounter “perceived discrimination” and “the stress of confirming negative expectations about your racial or ethnic group,” researchers found.

. . . perceived discrimination from teachers was “related to lower grades, less academic motivation … and less persistence when encountering an academic challenge.”

The study also found that the anxiety surrounding the stereotype of academic inferiority undermined students performing academic tasks.

To reduce stress, some students decide they don’t care how they do in school, says co-author Emma Adam. That leads to lower performance. “Promoting positive ethnic racial identity would be one way to reduce those feelings of separation or exclusion and improve students’ ability to focus in the classroom.”