It was quite a guest list. Dead Prez was there, and Supaman. Dr. Geneva Gay and respected Portland educator Joyce Harris. James Cole, Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education and leader of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, was there. So was Dr. Salam Noor, Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. OEA President Hanna Vaandering, Maimouna Youssef and Oregon Representative Lew Frederick. George Russell from the State Board of Education, and nationally known anti-racism activist Tim Wise.
Educators, artists, and community members spent Oct. 14-15 at the 7th annual Teaching with Purpose Conference. They learned and planned together, in morning plenaries and afternoon breakout sessions at Portland’s Parkrose Middle School, culminating with an evening Hip-Hop and Soul Fest at the Tao Event Center.
Founder and organizer Karanja Noumba Crews knows how to bring people together in common cause. According to conference emcee Dr. Charlene Williams, TWP’s cause is to “build a collective consciousness toward educational equity and answer the call to culturally responsive practice.”
As Rep. Lew Frederick said, “We’ve been fighting dragons so long we’ve forgotten how to build castles. And I’m so pleased to see that we’re starting to change that mindset.” We’ve been primarily in a compliance mindset for too long, he said, and we’re starting to talk about how we can increase the joy of learning.
We can’t decide now where the students are going to end up, he insisted. This event brings us together to talk about who’s out there in our community and how we can best help individual students where they are.
Joyce Harris, educator and founder of Portland’s Black Education Center, received the Community Engagement Award, and used her acceptance speech time to describe how she first met Karanja Crews, a soft spoken, determined young teacher and father who came to her for advice because he wanted to start a conference.
She asked him how much seed money he had, and she said he reached into the bottom of his raggedy backpack and pulled out a wrinkled up piece of paper. “Eighty-nine dollars,” he told her.
With Harris’ advice and assistance, and Crews’ persistence, hard work, and gift for luring talent, the project dug in and took off. Max Lubin, from the U.S. Department of Education, and his boss James Cole said it was the best conference they had ever attended.
For his part, James Cole answered a question about standardized testing from a teacher in the audience at his presentation by saying that the Obama administration was taking seriously the problems posed by standardized testing, pointing out that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives more flexibility to states to figure out how to deal with the over-reliance on standardized testing. “We are being as supportive as we can to reduce the testing,” Cole said, noting that it takes away from quality instructional time.
He maintained that we do need to monitor students’ progress, and stressed the importance of accountability and not leaving any child behind.
Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a renowned scholar and author from University of Wisconsin at Madison, introduced herself and her topic with a rap about where she’s from, culminating in “I’m from a place you can feel and see, and you know me, I’m Dr. GLB.”
Having grown from 15 or 20 attendees in a room at PSU the first year, attendance this year surpassed available space at Parkrose with nearly 600 participants and guests. On the second day of the conference, registration volunteers had to turn hopeful attendees away because the conference was “at capacity.”
You want to be at Teaching with Purpose next year. And you want to sign up early.