Thursday, September 29, 2016

So I started watching The Get Down on Netflix. It's really good so far and everyone should check it out, but I specifically wanted to share because it's set in the area Kozol talks about. I haven't seen enough of it yet to know exactly what it's saying about who's to blame, but it isn't shy about the reality of the neighborhood.

Here's the trailer!


This week, I chose to do a quotes post.

I was a bit confused by “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez this week, and had a moment of frustration when I finished. Throughout the article, Rodriguez discusses a personal account of his experience with assimilation, detailing how it broke down communication and the relationship between his family, and the internal struggle he had with public and private identity as a result, but concluded with his disagreement with anti-assimilation bilingual educators, which seemed contradictory to me.

“At school, words were directed to a general audience of listeners (‘Boys and girls’). Words were meaningfully ordered. And the point was not self-expression alone but to make oneself understood by many others” (Rodriguez 34).
This was a good distinction between the public and private identity, illustrating that the way you use language in public is for the benefit of others. It contrasts with how Rodriguez describes delighting in speaking Spanish at home as a child. It seems that children who speak English at home are also taught a “public” form of their language, one which exists to encourage understanding rather than self-expression, but I imagine it’s probably more subtle. When Richard and his siblings brought their school-English home and introduced it as the only form of the language that was spoken there, it means that a public identity is the only one that exists anymore. If the words at school were not meant for self-expression, and the family stopped speaking the language that allowed them to explore that side of communication, how do they ever express themselves?

“But the special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home; rare was the experience of feeling myself individualized by family intimates. We remained a loving family, but one greatly changed. No longer so close” (36).
This quote seems to support bilingual education. Rodriguez talks about how he lost an incredible bond with his family, and describes a house full of silence. I was very confused about why Rodriguez would discuss this and evoke empathy in the reader if his point is that this was the right way for him to learn English and be taught. If anything, his account made me resent the nuns for initiating the process that tore apart Richard’s family.
The wording of the quote also makes it clear that he does not think only speaking Spanish would be good for him as a child, either. He talks about how his family was close but in a “desperate, urgent” way, since they needed each other to feel understood. This supports his point, but it also greatly supports bilingualism in classrooms.

“But the bilingualists simplistically scorn the value and necessity of assimilation” (38).
How I saw Rodriguez's idea of the right way to teach
 English language learners
This is where I got frustrated. Rodriguez gives a very personal account of how assimilation is not a simple or easy process, and how it diminished the bond of his family, but then concludes by saying bilingualism is the approach that looks at things as too black and white. He seemed to explain why assimilation is bad and then advocate for it. This is his overall point, but I do not know if it matched what he had been saying throughout the whole piece.


For this week’s blog post, I chose the hyperlinks option.

When I looked up recent news in Mott Haven, I expected to find more of what was depicted in Kozol’s piece, “Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation.” In his writing, he describes an extremely worn-down, diseased neighborhood with no hope, and with a focus on the most immediate threats creating short-term solutions to complex problems, and in most ways this cycle has continued. What I found, though, was even more complicated.

When I searched for “Mott Haven crime,” it was not hard to find a recent article about these cycles, and the one I chose was from the New York Times, a newspaper that Mrs. Washington said was hard to come by in the neighborhood this featured article describes. The piece, “A Bronx Precinct Where Killing Persists” by Benjamin Mueller and Al Baker, is about a gruesome murder in the Mott Haven houses. The authors try to dissect some of the root causes of the high crime rates in the precinct that run generations deep, citing “entrenched violence in housing projects and uneven, ineffective services for mentally ill poor people” (Mueller & Baker).

The sign at a housing complex where a woman's body was found in a hallway after she was stabbed to death with a machete.
Another article, however, offered an entirely different picture of Mott Haven, this one by Miriam Kreinin Souccar,with its title loudly declaring, “Bye Bye Bushwick: The Bronx is the City’s next new arts scene.” The article explains how trendy it is for Columbia MFA students to move to areas like Mott Haven, describing transitioning neighborhoods, commuter accessibility, and “cheap rent.” At first glance, this may seem like wonderful news for residents of the Bronx, since their neighborhoods are improving around them, but the truth is more complicated. The article cites that the percentage of college-educated residents in Mott Haven has risen from 4.8 to 9.2% in the past fourteen years, but are residents being empowered or replaced? The article also states that rents in Mott Haven have risen a whopping 32 percent in the same time period. How can someone like Mrs. Washington, or Cliffie, ever afford to move out of city-owned housing “Where Killing Persists” when they have to compete with Ivy-League graduates and prices keep rising?

Bar and Grill Mott Haven- part restaurant, part art exhibit, part karaoke house- is one of the new installments catering to new residents of the neighborhood.

Protests against gentrification in the South Bronx saying "The Bronx isn't for sale"
This relates perfectly to the “All Lives Matter” piece by Kevin Roose. Sure, the neighborhood is “ transitioning,” but to what, and for whom? The Mott Haven Houses, the scene of gruesome murder and other crime, are neglected and given band-aids, but the city can proudly boast about their transforming neighborhoods because privileged youth are gentrifying the district. On a related note, Columbia’s page detailing its diversity claims 28% minority students in the MFA program. By contrast, 96% of residents in properties owned by the city of New York do not identify as white.


A mix of illness and technical difficulties has led me to this late blog post about Kristof’s article, “U.S.A., Land of Limitations?” Consequently, my post this week ended up as a sort of extended comments/argument post hybrid after our discussion in class (I hope this is okay? I’ll do another of each post type in the future!).
Kristof’s article raised a question of blame, and our class was somewhat divided in how to respond to that question. He discusses a personal story of his friend, Rick, who was born and died in poverty, arguing that he was set up to fail by the system. Some classmates disagreed, claiming that Rick made several personal choices that led to him staying in poverty, such as dropping out of school and committing crime. This argument also raised the point that many people “rise up” out of poverty, and there are opportunities to do so if you work hard enough (in school and otherwise) and make good choices. This may be true. Kristof argues that this climbing of the social ladder is a statistical oddity, and likens it to short parents birthing a future NBA star.

In my opinion, these opinions are not mutually exclusive. The fact that one  make person may make individual choices that further their cycle of poverty and disadvantage, while another person born in poverty may make personal choices that break that generational cycle and expose themself to new opportunities, does not discredit the fact that both of those people were disadvantaged compared to a privileged person born in a wealthy family. A person who “breaks out of poverty” will have to work at least twice as hard without the resources, support system, and societal advantages that more privileged peers are given and offered. Whether they choose to do so, or whether a privileged person decides to take advantage of their privilege, does not mean that the inequality is not there to begin with. In fact, this info-graphic shows how the gap has a snowball effect, and if there is no interference to stop it at an early age (with preschool, for example), it can be nearly impossible for disadvantaged youth to catch up to their peers later on.
It should not have to be the job of kids to “strive to overcome” their situations, or to figure out how to navigate the system they never asked to be a part of. Most people would probably agree with me, but at what point in a person’s development do we decide to blame them for being behind or for living in poverty? Furthermore, in many cases, people have a family or community of loved ones who are of similar status. Do we expect them to abandon those people, or to take on their burdens too? I do not know if we can always say that someone is making bad choices when, like Rick, they are only faced with two that seem equally bad or impossible, and people who live in poverty are faced with a lot more of those choices than people who do not.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

About Me

Hi, everyone!

My name is Jess and this is my second year at RIC. I'm a YDEV major from Wolcott, CT, which is about 2 hours away. Here it is on the map!

Not much happens here.

I also have a dog named Remi, who is basically my best friend.
Look how cute she is!

We take a lot of selfies together.

I've had a few different jobs (from Italian ice scooping to cashiering at The Home Depot), but the most important to me has been Girls Inc. This summer marked my third year with the program!

An RSA event with Becca near many of my favorite things can you fit in one picture?

Just for fun, enjoy the cuteness of red pandas playing in the snow.