Archive for July, 2018

“Say it Right”: Unpacking the Cultural Significance of Names

Ever since author Matthew Kay read abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech about the scourge of slavery, it’s been stuck in his mind. With its eloquent and unsparing accusation that the United States was betraying its very essence by perpetuating slavery, Douglass called for Americans to confront the country’s “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.” Kay draws on his nearly ten years of teaching high school English and leading discussions on race to write Not Light, but Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. He shares actual classroom discussions on such topics as the N-word, cultural appropriation, and pop-up conversations about sensitive, timely topics. In this excerpt, he talks about how he tackled the thought-provoking topic of names.

“Say it Right”: Unpacking the Cultural Significance of Names
By Matthew Kay

My mother Sherrill Kay taught third- and fourth-graders at Loesche Elementary in Philadelphia for thirty-six years. Each year, she would ask students to bring in a dish that represented their cultural identity and describe it to the class. When it was my class’s turn, it resulted in a feast of revelations. I had my first potato latkes with applesauce, my first curries. It was fascinating that my friends, when they went home to be with their own people, ate these different foods. Everyone lived in their own tasty universe, foreign from mine…and if they ate different things, what else did they do that was different?

As I grew up, this perspective stuck with me: somewhere, even close to my home, people are doing things differently than I am, and these things are as normal to them as my habits/values/routines are to me. This stance undergirds both the humility and empathy needed to engage in loaded conversations about race.

It instilled in me the importance of making time to actually appreciate our differences.

In my own high school English class, every couple of days, we pick a different element of culture—names, languages, music, art, religion, etc.—and we discuss the contributions made by these elements to our own cultural identities. If properly executed, these exchanges encourage students to thoughtfully challenge any lingering fear of differences.

We started with names, and I asked students to write about their relationship with their name. Did they like it? Not like it? Are they aware of its meaning? How has their name affected their movement through the world?

To spark the discussion, I handed out an elegant poem, “My Namesake,” by Hiwot Adilow, a former mentee:

i am tired of people asking me to smooth my name out for them,
they want me to bury it in the english so they can understand.
i will not accommodate the word for mouth,
i will not break my name so your lazy english can sleep its tongue on top,
fix your lips around it.
no, you can’t give me a stupid nickname to replace this gift of five letters.
try to pronounce it before you write me off as
lil one,
the ethiopian jawn,
or any other poor excuse of a name you’ve baptized me with in your weakness.
my name is insulted that you won’t speak it.
my name is a jealous god–
i kneel my english down everyday and offer my begging and broken amharic
to be accepted by this lord from my parents’ country.
this is my religion.
you are tainting it.
every time you call me something else you break it and kick it—
you think you’re being clever by turning my name into a cackle?
“he when how he what who?”
my name is not a joke!
this is more than wind and the clack of a consonant.
my father handed me this heavy burden of five letters decades before i was born.
with letters, he tried to snatch his ethiopia back from the middle of a red terror.
he tried to overthrow a fascist.
he was thrown into prison,
ran out of his home—
my name is a frantic attempt to save a country.
it is a preserved connection,
the only line i have leading me to a place i’ve never been.
it is a boat,
a plane,
a vessel carrying me to earth i’ve never felt.
i speak myself closer and closer to ethiopia by wrapping myself in this name.
this is my country in ink.
my name is the signature at the end of the last letter before the army comes,
it is the only music left in the midst of torture and fear,
it is the air that filled my father’s lungs when he was released from prison,
the inhale that ushers in beginning.
my name is a poem,
my father wrote it over and over again.
it is the lullaby that sends his homesickness to bed—
i refuse to break myself into dust for people too weak to carry my name in their mouths.
take two syllables of your time to pronounce this song of mine,
it means life,
you shouldn’t treat a breath as carelessly as this.
cradle my name between your lips as delicately as it deserves—
it’s Hiwot,
say it right.

Then I showed a clip of her reading the poem in her viral 2012 YouTube video. We watched the video twice: the first time just to enjoy and absorb, the second time to highlight the lines of her poem that the students related to. I asked them to pair off and share their selected lines with their partners. The hum of conversation was predictable, but after a few seconds, started to rise exponentially. Not quite realizing what was going on because I had turned my back to cue up the next video source, I gently admonished them to keep it down. Then, after a minute, another burst of sound caught my attention. I turned to see my students—every one—engrossed in fifteen of the most focused one-on-one conversations I’d ever seen.

In Not Light, but Fire, you can find out how Kay moves this classroom discussion forward, as students explore ethnic names, nicknames, “passing,” concatenated names, “ghetto” names, and more.

Add comment July 27th, 2018

The Method Takes Shape

This is the second a in series of seven posts that we’ll feature in the coming months commemorating the 25th anniversary of Stenhouse Publishers.

When Stenhouse founders Philippa Stratton and Tom Seavey entered the publishing business, they knew the market to be a furious rat race with very high entry costs. “If we tried to go up against the big boys,” recalled Seavey, “we would be lunch.”

Undercapitalized, they knew they had to find a kind of publishing microclimate, a sheltered place in which to take root. Leading Heinemann’s first foray into the U.S. market would be challenging.

With a few successful titles under their belt, Stratton initiated a method that would help define her publishing at Heinemann U.S. and later at Stenhouse: She got out of the office to talk to the educators who would be authors and readers of the books she published. She visited universities and education conferences, listening and taking notes. Persistence was also part of her modus operandi—a steadfast adherence to her own taste and judgment, along with a willingness to follow up with a potential author. Donald Graves’s research on children’s development as writers caught her attention. His book Writing: Teachers & Children at Work was a breakthrough title for Heinemann U.S. Others soon followed, including the bestseller by Lucy Calkins, Lessons from a Child: On the Teaching and Learning of Writing.

While Stratton worked to develop a list for Heinemann U.S., Seavey energetically plowed his own furrow; his job was to find readers—a market—for a different kind of book about learning and teaching.

The direct mail catalogue was his main device. He created mailing lists of teachers who seemed among the most engaged, forward thinking, and ambitious. An actual name went on every envelope. The catalogues fully explained each book.

By the late 1980s, it was clear that Seavey and Stratton had helped Heinemann U.S. find gold: readable books about teaching.

It was also during this period that they decided to act on their dream to start their own publishing house.

They found the ideal investor and partner in Highlights for Children, whose leaders also believed in the value of active, participatory learning and the powerful benefits it could yield.

Why “Stenhouse”? Lawrence Stenhouse (1926 -1982) was an original, provocative, and influential British educational thinker who profoundly affected Philippa Stratton. He possessed that rare ability to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and to put them together to create something new.

Stratton and Seavey knew that was their task as well.  They assembled a national network of distributors and connected to Canadian readers through Pembroke Publishers, a like-minded publisher of professional literature for teachers. By the fall of 1994, they put out six books and one video.  A year later, distributors were selling Stenhouse books in 25 states. Within five years, the start-up became profitable and would remain robustly and consistently so. Stenhouse continually drew loyal customers through its videos that showed teacher-authors at work with students in their classrooms, an e-newsletter, and virtual community of educators. By 2001, Stenhouse was publishing 20 books a year in its well-defined niche.

Stiff headwinds came in the early 2000s.

Add comment July 27th, 2018

Jambalaya and Stenhouse

The House That Teachers Built

Since its founding 25 years ago, Stenhouse Publishers has brought together teachers—as authors and as readers, as researchers and practitioners—to exchange ideas through books. Join us we recall our roots and celebrate our enduring mission to publish books by teachers.

Founders Philippa Stratton and Tom Seavey built their careers by creating a new kind of professional book for teachers and creating a market for them. In establishing Stenhouse Publishers, they invited authors—teachers themselves—to build the Stenhouse list, one book at a time.

Stenhouse is a publisher with a mission and a carefully honed point of view. Every book that Stenhouse publishes is grounded in sound theory and research and informed by years of experience in the classroom. Starting in 1993 with two employees and six titles in its first list, Stenhouse has grown to dozens of employees contributing to a catalog of more than 300 books and videos.

This is the first a in series of seven posts that we’ll feature in the coming months.

Jambalaya and Stenhouse

The seeds of Stenhouse were planted in 1967, when Stratton walked into a classroom of six- and seven-year-olds in North London to embark on a teaching career. She was excited to begin. Growing up in a village in southwest England had left her with warm memories of learning and teaching in the context of an extended family. Inspired by the progressive ideas circulating among educators at the time—a reform movement reflecting broader social trends of the 1960s—Stratton hoped to turn a page on the authoritarian teaching and rote learning of the past to accomplish something wonderful with her young pupils.

But she soon discovered that none of the new ideas she’d absorbed during her teacher training had seeded themselves in her small publicly funded school. What would it take to do that?

At the same time across the Atlantic, Maine native Tom Seavey was accruing his own early professional experiences, marketing college texts for the educational books division of a large American publisher. He began to wonder why none of his buyers were teachers. Seavey was curious: Had anyone tried to sell professional books to the millions of teachers out there?

It would be a full decade before either one would revisit their queries.


It was at a home economics conference in 1978 in New Orleans that the paths of Stratton and Seavey, now working in quite different capacities for the same company—Heinemann Education—fatefully crossed. Over a series of fine meals in New Orleans, the two came alive to the appealing qualities of the person across the table. Thy found each other funny and smart. They shared a sense of adventure and an independent streak. The pair parted reluctantly at the end of the week, but before long they were visiting each other whenever they could. By late 1979, they were ready to throw in their lots together. At the same time, Heinemann’s leadership had decided the company was ready to try publishing its own books in the United States. Perhaps the two would like to take that on?

The couple married in Exeter, New Hampshire, and established the two-person office of Heinemann.

They knew the American publishing market to be a furious rat race with very high entry costs. “If we tried to go up against the big boys,” recalled Seavey, “we would be lunch.”

Undercapitalized, they knew they had to find a kind of publishing microclimate, a sheltered place in which to take root.

(End of Part I)

Add comment July 13th, 2018

See you at ILA 2018 in Austin!

Visit the Stenhouse Booth #205 at the ILA Annual Convention in Austin to shop our rich collection of professional books, check out the new Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets, and meet our authors! And join us Friday from 4-5pm for cupcakes and celebrate our 25th Anniversary!

This year we will be holding five mini-sessions in our booth. Stop by for a quick PD session and stay to chat with our authors:

Steph Harvey & Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work, Third Edition
Saturday @ 10:00am: “Strategies That Keep on Working”

Jeff Anderson & Whitney La Rocca, authors of Patterns of Power
Saturday @ 10:45am: “Grammar: When Reading and Writing Collide”

Matthew Kay, author of Not Light, but Fire
Saturday @ 11:30am: “Not Light, but Fire”

Debbie Diller, author of Growing Independent Learners
Saturday @ 12:00pm: “Tips for Independent Learning”

Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris, authors of Who’s Doing the Work? and the new Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets
Saturday @ 2:30pm: “Prompts that Empower Readers”

Get a complete, printable list of conference sessions and in-booth Meet-and-Greets by Stenhouse authors.

Add comment July 13th, 2018

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