Tag Archives: Jean Anyon

It’s (Already) Been (Only) A Year

Jean at the waters edgeIt’s a year today since Jean Anyon passed away. That length of time feels simultaneously like the blink of an eye and forever. She was respected, admired, and loved by many. And though I can make no particular claim about the relationship she and I had while I was her student over that she had with anyone else, there is an undeniable ache in my heart still when I think of her.

I often return to this photo of her when I miss her. Although I think it was taken at the Jersey Shore, it reminds me of the Breakwater in Mattituck, NY, which I lived near for a brief time as a child, and where I used to go to escape. I like thinking of her this way — at the water’s edge, contemplating the possibilities, her thoughts known only to her.

Like so many people I know, death has punctuated my life, has made me hurt, has brought sadness when I’ve needed hope. But it has also cemented connections with other people in ways that I never could have predicted. After Jean’s death, I have been grateful to be held — both digitally and in real-time — by individuals who were also touched by Jean’s life, ideas, and dedication to her work. The love I feel for that group of people was established when we met under Jean’s tutelage, but has been concretized in the last year by the outpouring of care, advice, and there-ness that we have shared with one another.

The biggest challenge to me in Jean’s absence has been the ability to write. It sounds silly — it’s completely psychological — but for eight years, she read everything that I wrote. Without her feedback as a safety net, the keyboard has felt more like an obstacle than a tool. Only in the last week or so have I been able to start facing drafts that, for a year now, have been frozen in time. It feels good to move to a new place with writing, though I am somewhat surprised it’s taken as long as it has. It’s amazing what a year can (and cannot) do.

RIP, Jean. We miss you still, and as you wished on your last night with us, we will always — always — remember you for your work.

Remembering Jean

On March 28, we held a memorial in Jean Anyon‘s honor at the CUNY Graduate Center. It was an amazing tribute — packed with speakers who made us laugh, cry, and think about her important contributions to research on the political economy of education. I think she would have been glad it wasn’t a completely somber event, though many of us shed tears throughout. I couldn’t help it — I still miss her every single day. She was, as Michelle Fine put it, great at “momtoring” her students.

I made a video to share at the memorial, and have been meaning to post it on this blog:

Bullhorn Spotlight

I was interviewed this month for our union chapter’s newsletter, the Bullhorn. I was surprised to see that Jean Anyon makes a cameo appearance!!! I mentioned her in the interview, but didn’t know the author would pull photos from my websites. The picture is from 2007 at an anti-war march in Washington, DC. Something tells me Jean wouldn’t mind being featured in a labor union newsletter…

You can see the full issue of the newsletter here.

UUP Bullhorn Page 1 UUP Bullhorn

The Origins of TRAUE

TRAUEOn Wednesday, December 4, 2013, the online journal Theory, Research, and Action in Urban Education (TRAUE) launched its second issue. The journal was initiated by Jean Anyon in the Urban Education Program of the CUNY Graduate Center several years ago, in an effort to educate doctoral students on the process of peer-review; create a for-and-by-students space to develop ideas in theory, research, and action in urban education; and explore the possibilities of online publication (which was, at the time, an emerging medium for peer-reviewed scholarship). I was asked to share a few thoughts on the origins of TRAUE at the issue launch, and here are my comments in full. My sincerest thanks to the students and faculty who have worked diligently in the last few months to launch an exceptional contribution to scholarship. Jean would be proud:

I decided to read from notes for this event. As much as I want to talk from my heart on the spot, it’s still hard to speak about Jean without welling up. I thought reading something would help keep the tears at bay. And somehow, talking about Jean’s work with TRAUE from notes on an iPad seems apropos.

It’s hard to describe the origin of TRAUE without also sharing a slice of Jean’s technological journey. Although the boundaries between the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds no longer feel as distinct as they once did, there was a time less than a decade ago when many of us wondered if we could read and annotate articles solely online; conduct research via digital-only media; or if online peer-reviewed journals could really have the same respect and impact as those that appeared primarily in print. If we look back on just the last five years, it’s dizzying to think about how far we’ve come.

The changes in digital communication entered most of my conversations with Jean over the last eight years. I remember discussing the advantages of having a gmail account; the mind-boggling capabilities of Apple technologies; why I felt that blogs and social media provided a new and exciting place to listen to teachers. Jean was wary at first — unclear, as so many of us were, about how digital technologies might reframe and redirect our work as teachers, scholars, and activists; but her skepticism didn’t last long, and I remember when she finally made the switch from AOL to gmail, upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone, and gave me the go-ahead to run with my research questions about identifying online spaces worthy of educational research. When she got an iPad, she sent a steady stream of texts, amazed and delighted at her discoveries in the App Store. She became fearless in her application of digital technologies in her research and daily communication, and in many ways, her approach to TRAUE embodies her courage and willingness to try something new at a time when others weren’t willing or able to take a similar risk.

Jean was onto something when she brought the idea of an online journal to the Urban Education program here at the CUNY Graduate Center back in the 2009-2010 school year. While the idea of online journals almost seems dated now, we were one of a handful of education doctoral programs exercising the possibility and potential for digital, peer-reviewed work.

Thinking back on those first few meetings of TRAUE, it was a messy but productive time. Jean would hold multiple meeting times, to make sure everyone who wanted to could participate. She spent endless hours helping us draft and redraft our explanations for the purpose and sections of the journal; she made sure to honor and listen to everyone’s voice; and most importantly, she left the decision-making up to us. She wanted TRAUE to be a journal for and by students; to be a place for doctoral students in our program to learn the process by which journals receive, review, and publish articles; and to draw together, well, theory, research, and action in urban education.

Like so many of us have discovered –and continue to discover — since Jean passed away, she provided a wide and deep network of people, projects, and ideas with which to continue her legacy. TRAUE is, in a way, one of her many parting gifts. It is a reminder that we shouldn’t wait to try out new ideas; that research in education is dynamic and changing more rapidly than ever; that the opportunities to effect change are shifting and full of hope (or at least full of the potential for hope).

I want to end by saying that so many people were involved in the origin and evolution of TRAUE, and while I am delighted and honored to share some of my personal thoughts on the process at this event, there would be no TRAUE without the dedication, hard work, and persistence of those people who worked diligently to get the first two issues published. Jean would be proud of us for carrying on her work of fighting for change, equity, and justice in education in an ever-changing world.

 

Why We Need to Organize

The last few weeks have been hard. I still keep reaching for my phone to text or talk to Jean. Everything everyone said about your first year as a full-time professor being tough has been true. The learning curve is straight up: from learning how to decode university- and location-based acronyms and prep for classes to figuring out how to juggle the demands of teaching, service, and scholarship and strategize about how to find a parking spot, I’ve been spending more time at my office than at home, and I’m exhausted. Add the pressure from changing policies in teacher certification requirements to that mix, and, well, my head is spinning. The truly wonderful news in all of this is that I love my colleagues. I love my students, too, but my colleagues in particular are incredibly hard-working, brilliant people who know their stuff inside and out. I feel honored to walk among them every day.

When Jean and I started talking — roughly a year ago — about where I wanted to end up as a professor, I thought out loud about my fears of being able to be an activist in higher education. She assured me that there would plenty of opportunities, and indeed she was right. Today, I had the opportunity to attend a union meeting as the representative for my department.

The last contract, ratified earlier this calendar year, was a tricky one for the constituents: it includes a number of givebacks — some of which are overt and some of which are covertly vague. All come from the same place: to make us work more for less pay. I walked away from the meeting feeling a little bleak. Morale is very low.

And then a few things happened. I remembered back in 2004 (or thereabouts) when I started as an adjunct at Pace University, and helped organize a union there. I thought back on being a delegate in the United Federation of Teachers in the years that followed, and organizing actions with coworkers. None of it was easy, and we didn’t win every fight, but we found opportunities to organize together and be heard. I’m not sure what’s in store here at SUNY New Paltz, but people are angry and understandably so. I wonder what Jean would say…

Radical PossibilitiesA few weeks ago, my colleagues and I took photos with our favorite books to post on a bulletin board in the department. As you already know, Jean’s teaching, activism, and mentorship made an enormous impact on me — how I teach, what I teach, and why. Her call to action in Radical Possibilities is so relevant for me today: we won’t have a voice unless we collectively find one.

MORE

I’m officially a month into being a full-time faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, and couldn’t be happier about my new job so far. Everyone has been welcoming and warm, and I instantly felt at home here. My colleagues are hardworking, supportive, and brilliant, and my students are inquisitive and enthusiastic. And have I mentioned the facility!? Old Main, the building where the School of Education is housed, is the oldest building on campus. It recently underwent a renovation, and although the original stairs and beautiful stain-glass windows were preserved, the interior was completely rebuilt. Each classroom is furnished with smartboards, projectors, and document cameras that, from a pedagogical perspective, make interactive teaching with digital components a seamless possibility.

There have been many moments during the last two weeks when I’ve reached for my phone to call Jean Anyon. Despite my happiness over my new position, I have had a perpetual lump in my throat. I miss her terribly. As I expressed in my last post, she was more than a mentor and professor to me and so many others — she provided both professional and personal guidance, and it’s hard to adjust to life without her being an email, text, or phone call away.

She would have wanted to know that I went to the first meeting of our union, United University Professionals (UUP). I was grateful for the opportunity to find out more about the UUP, but the feeling of disappointment in the room about the last contract was palpable. From an important question about family/maternity leave (or lack thereof) to a report on plans to organize for a future contract in order to prevent further givebacks, it quickly became clear that we need to build more local support from the rank and file.

IMG_5574Last week, I received a t-shirt from the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), a caucus of the United Federation Teachers (UFT), in the mail. It seemed like a timely, and necessary, reminder of the work that can be done when workers come together. Although everyone at New Paltz seems very happy to be here, the one thing they often — and openly — vocalize is that they’re not in it for the money. While I agree that education as a career path isn’t always lucrative, I was shocked to find out a year ago when I went on the academic job market that university professors in education make as little as they do.

Doctoral students who are wrapping up their dissertations now are curious, and understandably so, about what they’re facing in terms of salary. After doing some calculations, I realized I’m making less than I was as a 5th-grade teacher seven years ago (in comparison, other universities where I interviewed weren’t offering much more). While context matters to some extent, the facts are clear: the cost of living is going up steadily everywhere, and teachers at every level remain underpaid. When I did a little research online to see what professors in other departments make, I found that business professors at the same level — with the same education as me — make tens of thousands of dollars more. Put simply, that just doesn’t seem right.

When I was an active member of the UFT, I signed on to several caucuses at various points that were fighting to protect members’ rights. At the time, we were lucky if five or ten people showed up to meetings. At a MORE meeting I went to this summer — in July, mind you, when most teachers are taking a well-deserved break — there weren’t enough seats for everyone who showed up. I walked away feeling energized by the reminder that when enough voices come together, people really do start to listen.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when Randi Weingarten (the then-UFT president) called on me in the Delegate Assembly to speak. I turned around to address the largest audience I’ve ever spoken in front of, and started out, “Hi. I’m a teacher, and I’m tired.” The room erupted in supportive applause and shouts, and I knew immediately that our resolution — of which I don’t recall the exact details now — would garner support from members. We’d been working without a contract for several years, and the rank and file was tired of being ignored.

I have a lot on my plate to balance the demands of my new job, and fully intend to do whatever I can to successfully juggle the expectations of teaching, scholarship, and service that come with my new position. However, as I await the arrival of my first paycheck, I can’t help but wonder about how we’ve gotten to a place where 1) we feel lucky if we have healthcare; 2) managing debt (as opposed to being able to pay it off) is the norm; 3) teaching, despite it being one of the most important jobs according to public discourse, continues to be such a low-paying profession; and 4) unions have somehow been painted as an obstacle instead of a vehicle. I worry about our future, America, but hold out hope that it’s not too late to fight for what we deserve.

How Do I Even Express…

getting on the busAs many of you already know, we have lost a brilliant scholar, teacher, mentor, parent, and friend. Dr. Jean Anyon, whose work has impacted the lives of so many, passed suddenly but peacefully on Saturday, September 7, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. While her body battled inwardly to fend off the disease that ultimately consumed her, she worked tirelessly to dedicate her time, passion, and energy to her life’s work of teaching and contributing to — and often resisting — the academic canon.

When I first looked for PhD programs in the summer of 2004, I was in the midst of doing a dance with socialism as a then-member of a large organization fighting for change in our often contradictory society, and stumbled upon Jean’s article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” As a teacher in a school in Harlem with few supplies and policy-driven expectations that ratcheted up with every day that passed, I was in search of a language to help me unpack, understand, and resist what I witnessed on a daily basis: the overwhelming inequities inside the classrooms of New York City and beyond. Although there were multiple programs in which I thought I could do good work, I decided to take my chances and apply only to the CUNY Graduate Center (GC), in the hopes that I could study with Jean. Her work provided the missing link to helping me gain an understanding of how things really work within the education policy world, and I was eager to get started on the project of becoming a teacher educator under her tutelage.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Jean, prior to submitting my application. I had read her book Ghetto Schooling and several other articles, and arrived at her office armed with copious notes and stacks of ideas for what I wanted to study at the GC, based on my experience as a NYC public school teacher. I remember her office door being open, and having her invite several current students in during our meeting to meet me. She immediately put me in touch with multiple students via email, so that I might ask questions and find out more about the program in a candid way before I applied. I was so grateful for this welcome. As she would many times throughout the years to come, Jean let me and countless others know repeatedly that we are part of an enormous network of people who share a desire to create a different kind of world. Those who knew her are all part of a community that she built, from the ground up.

As the following eight years passed in what now seems like a flash, I had my ups and downs as a graduate student. Like so many other students, I suffered heartbreak and loss, battled bouts of illness and writer’s block, and struggled through many email exchanges and phone calls in which Jean convinced me that I should stay in the program when I wanted desperately to leave — when I questioned if being a scholar would also allow me to be an activist for the work I wanted to do. Although I took longer than some to complete my PhD, she was my guiding light throughout the entire process. There are a number of memories that struck me last night, as I tried to fall asleep long after bed time. Thoughts of her wisdom, humor, and high expectations for her students cycled through my mind. I thought of:

  • the first time we talked about switching her email account from AOL to Google, and how she struggled (in her wry, humorous way) with accepting Facebook, Twitter, and the ways in which technology was changing communication and face-to-face contact
  • it taking quite some time to convince her that researching blogs written by public school teachers was worthy of dissertation research…and when I did, she was so proud. I look often at the email that she wrote after I submitted my final draft. In three words she summed up everything I was feeling: “YOU DID IT!”
  • the delight that lit up her face when she got an iPad and iPhone and admitted that she, well, could probably get used to this
  • the time she had to have major back surgery and we were all so worried for her…and she unexpectedly sent me in her stead to deliver a keynote address at a new teacher retreat in Columbus, Ohio
  • when she got on the bus with us to head down to DC to protest the war in Iraq
  • when she asked me to coauthor an article that has since become an important piece in explaining why policies such as NCLB don’t work, “No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure
  • when she invited students over to her apartment, or up to her home in upstate New York, reinforcing the idea that while an educational community may start in the classroom, it travels with you wherever you go
  • when she appropriately scolded me for not completing the revisions on an accepted article for Democracy and Education because I second-guessed the points I was trying to make (which would later lay the foundation for my dissertation)
  • how much pride she took in the many accomplishments of her students and the faculty with whom she worked so closely
  • always pushing us to think outside of our comfort zone, and above all, remain ourselves in scholarship, in the classroom, and in life in general
  • how much she talked about her daughter, Jessie, who she loved with all her heart

The memories are coming at me swiftly right now, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at the loss of a woman who, in her “free” time, reached out to act as a parent when I and many others needed it most. She was more than a teacher and a contributor to the canon; more than a friend and a surrogate parent. She meant so much to me, and I hurt in her absence. But I am not alone, and gather strength from the support of the large community she built. We will continue to honor her in days to come, and reach out to one another to find ways to express the loss of someone who impacted so many of us so deeply.

Please join us at the GC in the Urban Ed lounge tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and stay tuned for news of a more formal gathering in the months to come where we can share Jean’s impact on our lives — both personally and professionally — and make plans for how to both pay forward the mentorship she so graciously offered, and ensure the immortality of her brilliant scholarly work.

Don’t Know Much About History

As I push forward with data collection for my dissertation, I keep returning to the idea that history can repeat itself. And indeed, there is something repetitive — or even static –about the way the New York City public school system implements new reforms and policies.

I taught 5th grade from 2002-2006, during which a new standardized curriculum requiring a teaching method called the workshop model (defined by the the NYCDOE here) took elementary and middle school classrooms throughout New York City by storm. For some, the idea was not new and had either been introduced at an earlier time in their career or taught in a teacher education program; for others, it was an unfamiliar concept. But regardless of familiarity, many of us — particularly those of us teaching in schools with a lack of appropriate resources to do our jobs as required — the workshop model created the necessity to adapt behind closed doors.

As an example, there was the rug issue. Part of implementing the workshop model required a space in the classroom for students and teacher(s) to gather for a lesson, and creating a space with a rug for students to sit on made sense. In many schools it was compulsory. However, rugs were not provided by the school; nor was their cleanliness routinely maintained, which sometimes resulted in ongoing bouts of ringworm or infestations of lice, bed bugs, or other vermin.

In response to this expensive (and at times unsanitary) quandary, teachers were forced to adapt. Some had students gather chairs in a makeshift meeting area without a rug, or had them drag desks around in a way that created a sense of a meeting space, or, less desirably (especially for the watchful eyes of administrators), they eliminated the meeting portion of the workshop model altogether. Oftentimes, these adaptations resulted in reprimand and/or placing blame squarely on the teacher’s shoulders when test scores did not rise.

And while the Sisyphean practice of chasing the intended implementation of new policies like the workshop model without the means to do so seemed brand-new to many of us at the time, educational historians teach us that adaptation in the face of unreasonable or unrealistic policy expectations is not a new phenomenon for teachers in New York City. In a discussion of the introduction of new, progressive-education-based policies in city schools between 1920 and 1940 (shockingly similar to those “introduced” with the workshop model), Larry Cuban writes, “For teachers, contradictions multiplied as they tried to resolve the tensions generated by partisans of progressive pedagogy and the daily realities they faced in their schools” (1993, p. 113), and concludes, “The results were classrooms where contradictory behaviors appeared in an uneasy, often fragile configuration” (1993, p. 114). His words could also describe my experience many years later.

As I climb deeper into my data, I find myself revisiting the four books pictured: Radical Possibilities by Jean Anyon, City Teachers by Kate Rousmaniere, How Teachers Taught by Larry Cuban, and The One Best System by David Tyack. Each of these volumes takes a slightly different approach to the history of teaching and the policies that surround education, and not all focus solely on New York City; however, each helps me illuminate the idea that the pendulum of education policy has a tendency to swing back and forth, creating a sense of running in place without addressing the root of the problem which, often, comes down to a lack of necessary funds and resources.

There have been constant reforms in New York City schools in the last 100+ years, and yet accounts of teachers’ work almost a century ago are, in my opinion, too similar to today’s. It is my hope that we can find a new path — one that doesn’t have us constantly spinning our wheels.