I had the pleasure of hearing Linda Christensen deliver the keynote address at today’s RIWP Spring 2008 Conference. Linda wrote a book entitled Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power, so it was natural for her to speak on the subject of the “Politics of Language: Teaching About Language and Power.”

One of the first things she mentioned was how teachers often make kids small by referring to them as “those kids” or by discounting them for one reason or another. She shared a quote by the authors of Creating Critical Classrooms, which states that:

Education is never neutral: it either liberates, domesticates, or alienates.

Christensen made my mind go in a few directions. She me think about folks like Peter H. Johnston who urge teachers to select the language they use carefully. She made me think back about the coursework I did with Stephanie Jones on critical literacy when I was at T.C. She made me think about the Powerful Literacy, which I blogged about recently. But most importantly, Christensen reminded me that we need to think of all of our kids as being “at-promise,” not “at-risk.”

Principal Ira C. Weston of the Paul Robeson High School for Business and Technology in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn does not label his students at-risk. Rather he labels them at-promise. He states, “I would rather be a principal of a school with 1,500 ‘at promise’ students than 1,500 ‘at risk’ students. I look for the good in kids. I look for the majesty and talent rather than the deficits.” What a great way to view kids!

Why are we always focusing on the so-called “negative” things? Instead of saying that a student is at-risk for failing the state reading test, let’s start saying that a child is at-promise for passing this year since we’re doing all that we can to prepare him/her to obtain the reading and language skills s/he needs in order to be successful.

If all educators start to believe and talk like Principal Weston, then perhaps we can truly help our students obtain great things since we will truly believe in each and every child… making them feel big, and never small.

I think one of the greatest ways to make children feel as though they are capable members of society who have something to contribute is through writing. Empowering students, giving them a voice, and authentic opportunities to publish their writing will allow all of our students to recognize that they are at-promise. ALL students deserve a real audience since what each and every child has to say matters!