Besides Knowing How to Read, What Makes a Literate Nation?

20161002_070000Back in March, Central Connecticut State University released a study that ranked countries based on literate behaviors. Grouped loosely, the behaviors centered around libraries, newspapers, educational investment, educational “outputs” (how they define those I will have to read the actual study), and computer availability. 

Though the study had many interesting findings (such as the lack of correlation between years of school and literacy) what stuck out to me is that the country I’m now living in, Indonesia, ranked second to last out of sixty countries. Though Venezuela was not included in the list, I’m sure Venezuela would’ve ranked low too.

I noticed the lack of public libraries in both countries. In Valencia, Venezuela, for example, when I would ask where a public library was people would tell me 1.) they didn’t know of one and 2.) Venezuelan culture was not a culture about reading for pleasure. A bookstore or two could be found in the mall, but the pickings were slim compared to the soaring Book Stops of my childhood or ever-present Barnes & Nobles of my adult life.

Here in Jakarta, like in Valencia, I’ve turned to my Nook and my current school’s beautiful libraries (yes, plural…four of ’em!) to satiate my hunger for literature.

Funny enough, one of the few things I miss about NYC is NYC before smart phones took over–the NYC where you could tell which books were topping bestseller lists without ever reading the paper because you would see it at least three times on your morning commute. The NYC where I went to independent bookstores, and musty used bookstores (The Strand, anyone?), and libraries that taught me those spaces could be community centers, not just places to be quiet and study.

The States has a lot of problems concerning literacy, but there is at least an expectation that people read. People explain to me why they don’t read (maybe it’s because I’m an English teacher). That’s not always the case abroad. It’s just “I don’t read [long texts such as books].”

Now, I’m in the midst of a graphic novel reading blitz. I’m excited Gene Luen Yang won a Genius Award and inspired by his uncomfortably honest portrayal of Chinese stereotypes in American Born Chinese. I’ve been meaning to read that book since it came out in ’06…and just finished it last night.

My action research that I presented to my principal concerns increasing the amount of ethnically diverse mentor texts used in the middle school classroom. Since our library is being overhauled to look more like a bookstore divided by genres instead of by the Dewey Decimal System, we’re ordering new titles. I’m so proud of the school’s libraries because they are richly diverse as is, but I’m still going crazy pitching titles.

Please let me know if you have any young adult suggestions, particularly with Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, or Japanese protagonists. Simply drop me a comment!



Fashion in the K-12 Classroom

“Ms. A. looks like a hobo.”

These were the words one of my former fifth grade students uttered during my first year of teaching. My fall uniform in NYC consisted of brown, black, or gray pants and a dark-colored sweater. The pants that hung off of my 5′ 2.5″ frame once fit me, but stress and the daily miles of walking that comes with living in NYC left them desperately trying to cling to fat, a hip bone, anything. 

I needed a new wardrobe, but with a monthly student loan repayment minimum of $800+ a month, $1,000+ rent for my apartment, and the constant exhaustion that’s the beast called first year teaching, I couldn’t afford one. More importantly, I didn’t have the energy to shop for one.

My private conversation with the offending child had, admittedly, emotionally loaded questions sprinkled in such as “Do you think teachers don’t have feelings too?” It left her with a chin tucked into her chest, eyes wide and me just too tired to really think or even care much more about it.

I’ve never been one for fashion. I started freshmen year of college still wearing an oversized purple Eeyore sweatshirt.

That was one of my best looking sweatshirts.

I mean, I even had an Eeyore t-shirt to match with it. Senior year I lived in a pink sweatshirt with my college’s logo emblazoned across the front. Though I was in search of a small sweatshirt that fateful shopping day, maybe even a youth large, XXL was all they had…so I purchased it.

Thus, when a 10 year old critiqued my lack of fashion, it was added to the piles of “I’m going to nominate you to What Not to Wear” and “Are you wearing overalls?” (Yes, yes I am.) fashion commentary I ignored in the name of studying, not being vain, and not knowing what to do with a body that was petite but curvy enough to attract a male gaze that I was highly uncomfortable with.

So, I attempted to bury my body while exposing my developing intellect. I worked hard, achieved academically, and landed a good job that left me feeling miserable.

And I did not shop for clothes.

Ironically enough, the comments from 10 year olds (there was another one who wanted to give me a makeover) and a boyfriend who often acted like a 10 year old were the only rude fashion critiques I received throughout my five year stay in New York. While living in the (alleged) fashion capital of the world, one didn’t know what a person was trying to go for when he stepped on the train in an outfit that would make my grandmother shake her head in confusion but delight another.

And since a person couldn’t say what was art, fashion, a cross-pollination of the two or just pure fun, cutting critiques were tossed to the side like garbage on a subway platform.

And with that lack of judgment, I finally felt free. Free from conservative, Southern, boring Americana sartorial choices and the pressure to smash myself into a mold that I didn’t fit into and wasn’t interested in, quite frankly.

Skinny jeans were purchased (which I still don’t think look flattering on any body type, but they’re easier to tuck into winter boots), knee high boots were pulled on, and a crop top was even attempted, stubborn belly fat be damned.

Fall became my favorite season where I would don skirts, boots, and black on black patterened tights. Polka dots, checks, zebra prints, and whimsical lines adorned my legs.  I would happily grab packs of them at my local Target and wear them until the weather warmed and the days began to stretch out again.

My last year in New York, I sat at a bar with current and former co-workers, legs crossed at the ankles, tights on for one last go, and a typical teacher skirt (checkered, black and white) riding up my thighs. This skirt will have to be retired, I thought to myself while pulling it back down.

In the name of self-love, and maybe a Friday Happy Hour, people were discussing their best body parts. Arms, teeth–I paused when it got to me.

“Your legs,” a former co-worker supplied.

“How do you know that?” I asked, pulling at my skirt again. “I wear pants 90% of the time and tights with my skirts the other 10%.”

He shrugged. “I’m a man.”

And there it was. I’d spent my life from puberty onwards trying to hide my legs beneath too much material, pants, tights, and even jackets. Despite the attempts to do so, people commented that I had nice legs…and I just needed to accept it. Compliments weren’t always sexual in nature, and they didn’t always have a hidden agenda. Sometimes they were just that: a compliment, nice words, a spirit lifter.

I sipped my drink and watched, amused, as a woman flirted shamelessly with my co-worker. Clearly, she was not threatened by my presence.

I left New York City for Venezuela, where I began to wear apple red-framed glasses that my younger self would’ve turned away from in horror. In Indonesia, I’m now beginning to play around with multi-colored head scarves as a nod to both my African heritage and the fashionably covered Muslim women I see every day. I miss my fall tights and still think about my too large winter pants as I now step into custom made cotton ones, but I’ve changed climates so my fashion has to change too.

I can’t say that my fashion, or lack thereof, has ever fully reflected my personality though.

But, on second thought, maybe it has. My emotions have more layers than a newborn wrapped for its first winter. I find comfort in layers…a jacket, some tights, a scarf. Maybe it’s because with layers a person has to wait to see what’s underneath, and I don’t like showing my full self to the world. I prefer to have people wait and see.

Or maybe I don’t want to get too into fashion without Stacy and Clinton explaining to me the nuances of dress. Thought the show is off the air, maybe I’m still hoping Stacy and Clinton will show up on my doorstep.

You know, in Jakarta.

This post is my first attempt at The Discover Challenge. I hope to participate every week in order to develop a habit. Thoughts? Please leave your comments below.


History of Lynchings (aka Domestic Terrorism) in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names

Let me be clear. I’m all about Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and Bryan Stevenson. You know, in case my other posts didn’t make that clear already.

Even though I finished Just Mercy some weeks ago, that book honestly has me reflecting on my definition of justice. Quite frankly, I’m beginning to think that there’s no such thing as justice, at least not the childhood version of justice I can’t shake no matter the life experience.

Now Mr. Stevenson decided to go on and be bold again.

EJI is starting an initiative to mark lynchings sites in the US. As a Black child in Texas when white supremacists dragged James Byrd to his death using a pick up truck, I’m all for it.

I’m. All. For. It.

The US needs its own version of Truth and Reconciliation. Like I’ve written about before, people were mailing lynching postcards right here in the US of A. The federal government had to pass a law saying don’t mail that shit anymore.

I mean…

If individuals thought it was OK to mail evidence of a murder, rent out special edition trains to go see lynchings, sell pieces of the lynched’s body and recorded sounds of the victim’s screams (all true, I didn’t make that up) you know life was bad for Blacks in the South. The words pervasive violence do not do this justice.

Terrorism fits the bill nicely though.

The thing is Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans were lynched in the West. White people who were found to be allies of people of color got strung up too.

I intentionally say strung up–as if flippant–because certain lives were considered cheap. Worthless. Something to be flippant about and take pictures of in your Sunday best as proof that you were there to help brutally stamp it out.

This worthless thing of a life.

I taught about lynchings at my old school. We read about Ida B. Wells-Barnett and completed research projects.

This is a part of history that I can’t let go of. Maybe it’s because so many others already have. Maybe it’s because an amazing professor, Professor Wallace, first taught me about this. I don’t know.

Regardless, let these markers–and the fights that will come to not put up these markers–lead us down a real path to Truth and Reconciliation instead of the path of Forgive and Forget.

I Can’t Lie

Y’all, I can’t lie. I was sad that I didn’t win in any category for the Black Weblog Awards.

But then the sun rose the next day, my Momma still said she loved me, and I got to read this article about protests concerning high-stakes testing.

I’ve written before about my lack of enthusiasm surrounding ever having to teach in the States again.

If the pendulum swings the other way though–away from the insanity and the fools who mandate all students take a standardized test on computers but don’t provide the money to purchase said computers–I might just think about teaching in the States again.


Researching the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Using Primary Sources

As  a teacher, I’m constantly exhorted to reflect on my practice. One self-identified area of weakness is giving the students ample opportunities to delve into primary sources, particularly in World History class.

As my two NEH Summer Seminars have taught me, allowing students to explore sources, participate in inquiry cycles, and reach their own fact-based conclusions is a crucial aspect of learning.

Thus, when the school librarian informed me about an extensive primary source, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, I decided to incorporate it into a unit on Medieval Africa. Last year, my 7th grade World History students created podcasts about Medieval Africa, griots, and oral history as a part of the unit. This year, they created podcasts like the one that opens this blog post.

Using this lesson plan as a foundation, each student was assigned a particular area of research. Since I’m teaching in Latin America, I changed some of the research questions to focus on Latin America instead of North America. I also have a proudly Brazilian student. To his excitement, I created questions that were Brazil-focused (there’s a historical reason why Brazil has the largest amount of people of African descent outside of Africa!). Students also had to incorporate information from the text The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay.

Despite a one-on-one conference, the ESL student who created the above podcast struggled to fully articulate the law of jettison in relation to Captain Collingwood’s decision to throw (read: murder) over 100 slaves overboard in the name of survival and an insurance claim. As she repeatedly alludes to at the end of the podcast, she did grasp the horror that was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

I was proud of this student’s introduction because she incorporated the attention grabbing techniques we discussed in English class (along with a few transition words to boot!). Overall, I still want the students to produce stronger, more content-rich podcasts, but this was definitely a start. If any teachers are interested in completing a similar project with their students please feel free to reach out to me.

Estoy a la orden (I’m available).


Filled with Gratitude and Thanks: Immigrating is in the BWA Finals!

For the past two weeks I’ve been tired and stressed. Since childhood, healthy stress management has been a Herculean task for me. Stress has caused my hair to fall out on more than one occasion, my body to feel tired to the point of dizziness, and my right eye to run water as if I was crying.

And, yes, it was just the right eye because I need another awkward moment in my life.

After mandating that failing students come to my office hours for remediation (at my school the kids actually come without arguing, which equals a modern-day miracle), parent meetings, lesson planning, and “catch-up” Saturdays at work, I still found myself up until the time where yesterday kisses today entering last minute grades.

I haven’t been to the gym in a week, my hair has been looking crazy for the last two weeks (nothing new there), and I opted out of a Saturday beach trip because I’m dreaming about a Saturday lying in bed more than a Saturday lying on the beach.

In short, I’m exhausted.

I was preparing to crawl into my cotton bed sheets at a time that would shock my grandma when I discovered that this blog, Immigrating with a Purpose, made it to the final rounds of the Black Weblog Awards in all four categories where it was nominated!

In all honesty, I’m floored and beyond humbled. My goal was for Immigrating to simply get nominated, and here it is in the finals.

Thank you, readers, for your votes, well wishes, and congratulations.

Writing is my version of therapy; I’m honored that the words I type as a way to calm my overactive brain resonates with others. May this hopefully continue.

And what was that I was saying about being tired again?

I think I just got my second wind.