Jon Moscow

Ujju Aggarwal on school choice, whiteness as property, and the “right to exclude”

We speak with Dr. Ujju Aggarwal, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Experiential Learning at the New School’s Schools of Public Engagement. Dr. Aggarwal explains how neoliberalism, with its emphasis on individual choice, includes a “right to exclude” and perpetuates discriminatory school admissions, not only to some charter schools but also to district schools and programs, describing in particular the experiences of parents in Manhattan’s District 3. Dr. Aggarwal also discusses the participatory action research model, combining data collection and community organizing, which she has helped to develop.

Ujju Aggarwal on school choice, whiteness as property, and the “right to exclude”

 
 
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Adjoa Jones de Almeida of the Brooklyn Museum on art as experience

We speak with Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Director of Education at the Brooklyn Museum. We discuss the significance of “art as experience.” Ms. Jones de Almeida describes art’s transformational power to educate and empower students of all ages, both personally and politically. The Museum partners with teachers across the academic spectrum and works to include diverse families and communities.

Adjoa Jones de Almeida of the Brooklyn Museum on art as experience

 
 
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To know more about the Education programs at the Brooklyn Museum, visit brooklynmuseum.org/education

Mark Santow on Suing Rhode Island for Educational Equal Protection

We speak with Dr. Mark Santow, Chair of the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Dr. Santow and his middle school son, along with 12 other plaintiffs, are suing the state of Rhode Island in federal court under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for failing to provide civics curricula and other components of an adequate education to some Rhode Island students. The suit is especially notable because most education equity cases are brought in state courts. We discuss the racial, socioeconomic, and political underpinnings of educational inequality.

Lev Moscow offers advice for secondary school teachers

We interview Lev Moscow who, for the last 14 years, has taught history and economics at The Beacon School in New York City. Lev reflects that advisory, done well, can serve as a venue for students to explore questions of ethics, purpose and happiness. He talks about balancing the history curriculum to include non-European perspectives. Getting students to read more than a few sentences is perhaps today’s teachers’ greatest challenge and Lev explains his approach.

Lev refers to John Dewey, Tony Judt, and these resources:

  • Book “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials” by Malcolm Harris;
  • Book “The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School” by Neil Postman.

Lev Moscow offers advice for secondary school teachers

 
 
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Lev also hosts a podcast that aims to make economics accessible. It is called A Correction Podcast and you can listen to it on acorrectionpodcast.com.

Kym Vanderbilt on ethical early childhood teacher preparation

We interview Kym Vanderbilt, Lecturer and Professional Development Liaison in the Early Childhood/Childhood Department at CUNY/Lehman College. Kym describes her students’ concerns about meeting the needs of teacher assistants and parents as well as children. She talks about the test-heavy teacher certification process, which is both intimidating and expensive for aspiring teachers of limited means, and how she tries to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for her students, staying in touch with them long after they become teachers themselves. To give us context, Kym gives us a fascinating overview of the complicated history of early childhood education.

Kym Vanderbilt on ethical early childhood teacher preparation

 
 
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During our conversation, Kym mentions the episode with David Kirkland about the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. Click here to listen to it!

Photo by Christina Morillo

David Kirkland on New York’s State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework

We speak with Dr. David E. Kirkland, Executive Director of NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. A leading voice in culturally responsive and sustaining education, the Metro Center helped write New York State Education Department’s new Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. The Framework is founded on a view of education that regards culture as a critical component of learning. Multiple expressions of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender, language, and sexual orientation, are regarded as assets to be recognized and cultivated.

David Kirkland on New York’s State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework

 
 
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Click here to learn more about the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. 

Soledad Hiciano on nurturing and educating immigrant children in an age of deportation and deprivation

We speak with Soledad Hiciano, executive director of Community Association of Progressive Dominicans (ACDP), a multi-service community organization in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. She describes the challenges of supporting children who may have experienced multiple traumas, including homelessness and the deportation of close relatives.

Soledad Hiciano on nurturing and educating immigrant children in an age of deportation and deprivation

 
 
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Photo by Bruce Warrington

Silvia Canales on Relationship-Based College Counseling

We speak with Silvia Canales, who coordinates the college advisory program at Brotherhood/Sister Sol, an organization that provides comprehensive and holistic support services to underserved youth. Silvia talks about fully integrating college counseling into a program environment in which adults know young people well and students engage in systematic self-reflection.

Silvia Canales on Relationship-Based College Counseling

 
 
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Find more about Silvia and The Brotherhood/Sister Sol on brotherhood-sistersol.org

Adán Vásquez on The Washington Heights Community Conservatory of Fine Arts: “I could be the one playing the cello!”

We talk with Adán Vásquez, executive and artistic director of the Association of Dominican Classical Artists and the Washington Heights Community Conservatory of Fine Arts, a unique free classical and folk music education program for the youth of Upper Manhattan. Adán Vásquez, a harpist, is an educator, an acclaimed classical musician, and a community activist. He talks about making Latin American and European classical music and Latin American folk music accessible to low-income young people of color, and the role of performing arts in transforming children’s lives and community building. We listen to excerpts of students playing Carabine by Julio Alberto Hernández and the Conservatory faculty (“La Camerata Washington Heights”) performing Migraciones by Servio R. Reyes.

Adán Vásquez on The Washington Heights Community Conservatory of Fine Arts: “I could be the one playing the cello!”

 
 
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Find more about Adán Vásquez, ADCA and WHCCFA on clasicosdominicanos.com

Jason Warwin on The Brotherhood/Sister Sol: building strong Black and Latinx youth leaders for social change

Jason Warwin is the Co-Founder and Associate Executive Director of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, an organization that provides comprehensive, holistic and long-term support services to youth who range in age from eight to twenty-two. Located in Harlem (NYC), Bro/Sis also has programs dedicated to developing Black and Latinx youth in Africa, Latin America and The Caribbean. Jason is a specialist in the design of transformative experiences and we talked about how the Bro/Sis model leads young people to ethical leadership and educational achievement, and makes them an essential part of a solid community that has been fighting oppression for almost 25 years.

Jason Warwin on The Brotherhood/Sister Sol: building strong Black and Latinx youth leaders for social change

 
 
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Find more about Jason and The Brotherhood/Sister Sol on brotherhood-sistersol.org

Mark Gordon on the Friends and Relationships Course: teaching and learning from people with intellectual disabilities about sexuality, interdependence, and inclusion

We talk with Mark Gordon, founder of the Friends and Relationships Course, a program in New Mexico that provides classes for adults with intellectual disabilities who want to learn how to form intimate and other relationships. He talks about what he’s learned over 15 years of teaching sexuality classes, learning along with his son about the ongoing necessity for interdependence. We also discuss society’s failure to welcome and accommodate people with developmental disabilities.

Mark Gordon on the Friends and Relationships Course: teaching and learning from people with intellectual disabilities about sexuality, interdependence, and inclusion

 
 
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Deborah Meier on Public Education and Democracy: What makes an ethical school

We talk with MacArthur “genius” award winner Deborah Meier, a founder of the small schools movement, about what makes a good school. She talks about how to build and maintain trust and mutual respect among students, teachers, and families.

Eva Lopez on Act4Change: applying Theatre of the Oppressed to building social justice in The Bronx

Eva Lopez on Act4Change: applying Theatre of the Oppressed to building social justice in The Bronx

 
 
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We talk with Eva Lopez about Act4Change, a Theatre of the Oppressed project in the Bronx. Eva Lopez uses theater techniques to invite children and youth to envision liberation and to empower them to resist oppression. Audiences become spect-actors to examine root causes of bullying, domestic violence and other personal/societal crises.

NY Opens the Door to SEL

In August, the New York State Education Department published Social Emotional Learning: Essential for Learning, Essential for Life, a detailed document calling for all NYS schools to incorporate social emotional learning into their daily instructional practice with fidelity and district-wide support.  The linked Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks, however, are voluntary, and the authors point to sources of multiple barriers to success, not least among them that “[t]here are subgroups who believe that social emotional development, instruction, and learning falls outside of the purview of the public schools and should not be included in classroom curriculum.” Thus, realizing these aspirational goals will require lots of grassroots work and struggle.

A quote from Linda Darling-Hammond sets the tone:

I have no doubt that the survival of the human race depends at least as much on the cultivation of social and emotional intelligence, as it does on the development of technical knowledge and skills. Most educators believe that the development of the whole child is an essential responsibility of schools, and this belief is what has motivated them to enter the profession.

Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice, 2015

SED’s call to action is the latest step in a decade-long process. In 2009, NYS legislation called for establishment of SEL guidelines through collaboration between SED and the State Office of Mental Health. In 2016, New York joined a CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) initiative and adopted CASEL’s definition and competencies.

CASEL defines SEL as the process through which “children, youth, and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

The SEL goals are:

    1. Develop self-awareness and self-management skills essential to success in school and in life;
    1. Use social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships;
  1. Demonstrate ethical decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

Fleshing out the SEL definition, the CASEL competencies are:

    • Self-Awareness: understanding one’s emotions, personal goals, and values;
    • Self-Management: skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors;
    • Social Awareness: the ability to take the perspective of and have respect for those with different backgrounds or cultures, and to empathize and feel compassion;
    • Relationship Skills: communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision Making: the ability to consider ethical standards, safety concerns, and make accurate behavioral assessments to make realistic evaluations of the consequences of various actions, and to take the health and well-being of self and others into consideration.

SED urges schools to implement multi-tiered support systems such as Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) that incorporate universal, secondary and tertiary interventions. Universal interventions are proactive and preventive. Secondary and tertiary behavioral interventions are more specifically targeted to individual students’ needs for support.

SED links its goals to the research on SEL’s importance in improving all students’ learning, with particular emphasis on its role in establishing equity, and meeting the needs of English Learners, Students with Disabilities and other students with special needs. The document identifies implicit bias as a major obstacle to achieving equity and looks to Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP), which require skill in all SEL competencies, as a means of managing it. Farinde-Wu, Glover & Williams (2017) showed CRP to be effective in improving student academic performance and life opportunities across content areas. CRP utilizes an assets-based perspective and leverages students’ cultural context to make learning relevant and increase engagement (M. Hurley, interview, May 2017).

A meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in K-12 schools (Durlak et al., 2011) indicated that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated better academic performance, improved attitudes and behaviors, fewer negative behaviors, and reduced emotional distress. A number of studies have shown long term positive effects of prosocial skills on adult outcomes, including college graduation, financial well-being, physical health, and avoidance of substance abuse and involvement with the police.

Many children experience a number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These may include: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental separation, divorce, or conflict; incarcerated or deported household member; homelessness; and household mental illness. The cumulative stress of ACEs “can affect students’ attention, processing of information, memory, and learning, undermine the development of language and communication skills, thwart the establishment of a coherent sense of self, compromise the ability to attend to classroom tasks and instructions, interfere with the ability to organize and remember new information, and hinder a student’s grasp of cause- and-effect relationships, all of which are necessary to process information effectively. Neurobiological changes in the brains of young people exposed to severe and/or persistent trauma leave them in a constant state of stress in which they are highly susceptible to ‘triggers’ in their environment.” It is critical for educators to be cognizant of the impact of ACEs when responding to students’ behavior and to provide proactive scaffolding within the school environment, utilizing trauma-informed practices such as those found in the National Center for Traumatic Stress Network toolbox.

Not surprisingly, SEL practices help to alleviate behavioral issues that frustrate schools, teachers, parents and students on a daily basis. In financial terms, a 2015 Teachers College study found an average of $11 return for every $1 invested in evidence-based SEL programs. (The six SEL programs in the study were the 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect, & Resolution); Positive Action; Life Skills Training; Second Step; Responsive Classroom; and Sweden’s Social and Emotional Training, which has a similar curriculum to the United States’ Providing Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) program).

SED says that it is now poised to implement SEL for all students statewide and is developing a School Climate Index and A Guide to Systemic Whole School Implementation, in company with a series of school district-developed crosswalks aligning SEL competencies with learning standards in the content areas.

Genuine whole school implementation to the depth SED proposes will require a serious commitment and coordination of district and school supports in every area of school life including school culture and classroom environment; professional development; discipline/restorative practices; parent outreach and engagement; student support services; personnel policies; and alignment with out-of-school-time programs.

To support educators’ capacity to develop their own social emotional competencies and those of students, “educators need access to best practices in implementation and evaluation, including supports and resources on SEL that are integrated into existing teacher evaluation and professional development systems.” Revision and implementation of new or revised benchmarks will require a serious commitment of time and money.   

SED acknowledges potential barriers to statewide implementation. Schools and school systems tend to be conservative and hierarchical. A fundamental shift in focus toward SEL will require both advocacy and activism.

Furthermore, SED’s goals leave open the essential questions such as:  What, for example, are “ethical decision-making skills” and how can they be taught most effectively and equitably? What happens when someone tries to teach ethics in a school or district that is not itself ethical? What happens when encouraging students (or teachers) to ask hard ethical questions leads to challenges to authority? And what degree of SEL will help live up to Linda Darling Hammond’s challenge that we may be talking about the “survival of the human race,” and, perhaps we should add, of the planet?

These are fundamental questions with which individual districts, schools and teachers around the state and the country are grappling. Programs such those in the Teachers College study; Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility’s Restore360; Facing History and Ourselves’ programs; Institute for Humane Education’s Solutionary Program;  and Brown University’s Choices invite students to pursue ethical solutions to a range of problems, from the global to the classroom.

Geoff Renaud of The Ethical Community Charter School–Jersey City (affiliated with EIEN), tells of students’ shock at realizing, during Facing History’s Weimer Republic unit, that they had actually endorsed the Nazi Party’s platform when offered unlabeled choices among German parties of the time. Brett Schneider, principal of Bronx Collaborative High School, says, “The magic of [Morningside Center’s] restorative circles is that they allow students to be heard, and they open up trust. When there is a fight, students know they won’t be demonized. They have a moment of grace when they understand what has happened and why. It can be life-changing.”

The challenge is to transform schools so these programs, and others like them, move from being the exception to being the rule.

Jon MoscowCo-Executive Director of Ethics In Education Network, is a strategic planning and development consultant to community-based and educational organizations. He was executive director of Parents Coalition for Education in New York City and has helped to found and develop three student-centered schools in the City. He serves on a number of boards, including Brotherhood/Sister Sol and has a Master’s from Bank Street College of Education.