Friday Reading List: Modern Epidemics, Reparations, and Civil Rights History

Start your Friday by reading this New York Times piece from Donna De La Cruz about what happens when you ask children to finish the prompt "I wish my teacher knew":

The responses were eye-opening for [teacher Kyle] Schwartz. Some children were struggling with poverty (“I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework”); an absent parent (“I wish my teacher knew that sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom isn’t around a lot”); and a parent taken away (“I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad because he got deported to Mexico when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in six years”).

Children have an enormous range of experiences, and they know a lot more about how those experiences affect their scholarship than we often give them credit for.  To that point, Tara García Mathewson at the Hechinger Report looks at how the opioid epidemic is shaping families:

Nationwide, the opioid epidemic has contributed to an increase in the number of parents who turn over caregiving responsibility to their relatives as they grapple with addiction to prescription drugs. More than 2 million people in the United States were thought to be struggling with an addiction to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, according to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control ... While the reasons grandparents raise their grandchildren vary from one family to another, it is clear that the opioid epidemic has had a major impact on the broader trends, particularly within the white community.

The fact that opioid addiction disproportionately affects White communities has contributed to treating the epidemic as a public health crisis, rather than a criminal justice issue. Here we learn that the crisis also has long-term consequences for public schooling. 

Elsewhere, Georgetown University wants to start atoning financially for the long-term consequences of slavery. Earlier this year the school began telling concrete stories of the ways in which enslaved people were instrumental in building the university, and yesterday this happened:

Nearly two centuries after Georgetown University profited from the sale of 272 slaves, it will embark on a series of steps to atone for the past, including awarding preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved, university officials said Thursday. Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia, who announced the measures in a speech on Thursday afternoon, said he would offer a formal apology, create an institute for the study of slavery and erect a public memorial to the slaves whose labor benefited the institution, including those who were sold in 1838 to help keep the university afloat. In addition, two campus buildings will be renamed — one for an enslaved African-American man and the other for an African-American educator who belonged to a Catholic religious order.

Ta-Nehisi Coates had the tweet of the day on the topic:

To Coates's point, reparations - for both slavery and the 150 years of statutory oppression that followed - do not have to happen as a sweeping, federal gesture. A series of acts like the one Georgetown undertook yesterday could begin a trend of truth and reconciliation.

In other news, Maine's one-to-one computer program is under the microscope, as Benjamin Herold and Jason Kazi investigate in Ed Week:

Among the questions increasingly faced by states and districts that have given computers to every student: How to demonstrate the impact of such programs on student achievement? How to navigate the explosion of new device options now available to schools? And, perhaps most significantly, how to maintain a focus on teaching and learning, even while fighting for the millions of dollars necessary to maintain and refresh growing hardware inventories? Once a national and international leader, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative recently has struggled with such challenges.

The piece is an interesting exploration of the intersection of technology, school finance, and politics. On the one hand, schools have long been tempted by the Siren's call of technology, only to be disappointed by lackluster results from the deployment of laptops for every child. On the other hand, reading between the lines of this piece, the pushback against this program could be just as motivated by fiscal pressure as by results.

Writing in Essence, Feminista Jones catalogues the history of athletes as carriers of Civil Rights messages:

With his simple, but powerful act of defiance, Kaepernick joins a unique athletic club comprised of courageous individuals willing to risk personal and professional injury to draw attention to the poor treatment of Black people in America ... At the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the U.S. track and field team. Upon his return from Germany, Owens received no congratulations from President Roosevelt and later stated that he felt he received better treatment in Nazi-occupied Germany than in his own racially-segregated country. While he should have been celebrated for his Olympic achievements and compensated handsomely, particularly special given the world climate, Owens returned to a life of poverty after facing rejection from politicians and entertainers. He resorted to making money by racing against horses and dogs for over a decade until he began securing speaking engagements in the 1950s.

History has a way of sanitizing these stories, so that we don't recognize courage when we see it in real time.

Finally, a bit of self-promotion ... I was a guest on Lauryn Doll's podcast - "Sexy, Focused, Ambitious" - yesterday. While I wanted to assure her that I am, at best, modestly attractive and easily distracted, we ended up having an open, fun, and enlightening chat about the difficulty of communicating across difference. She is a funny, smart, gracious host, so I hope you'll give it a listen: