Sunday, December 1, 2013

Argument (& Connections) on Shor's "Empowering Education"

Our final article, the first two chapters from Ira Shor’s Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change, was very interesting to read because it effectively tied together everything we have read and discussed over the course of the semester.  I kept noting in the margins when I would see something from a previous reading pop up, and by the end, I think just about every one appeared.  I will come back to that in a minute, though.

At the very beginning, Shor asks: “Can education develop students as critical thinkers, skilled workers, and active citizens?  Can it promote democracy and serve all students equitably?” (p. 11)  Shor argues that it can, though not through the traditional curriculum instituted in so many schools.  The traditional curriculum is an authoritarian model in which the people in power have selected what will be taught and what will be left out, and then these rules and knowledge are transferred one-way to students through teacher-centered methods.  In this model, students are “educat[ed] … into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind or into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean” (p. 13).  Students’ natural curiosity and critical thinking skills are slowly stamped out as they progress through school.  The students feel alienated from the curriculum, particularly when their own cultures and languages are left out.  Students also feel as though they are being taught at, and the methods of memorizing and regurgitating facts turn them off of schooling and pursuing knowledge altogether.

Shor argues instead for “a curriculum that encourages student questioning, [in which] the teacher avoids a unilateral transfer of knowledge.  She or he helps students develop their intellectual and emotional powers to examine their learning in school, their everyday experience, and the conditions in society” (p. 12).  He defines this method of empowering education as “a critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change.  It is a student-centered program for multicultural democracy in school and society” (p. 15) – the purpose of which, as he quotes Banks as saying, is to “help students to develop the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become social critics who can make reflective decisions and implement their decisions in effective personal, social, political, and economic action” (p. 16).

This is achieved by encouraging students’ participation in their education through problem-posing, which enables them to think critically and reflect on subject matter and how it relates to society.  “Participation provides students with active experiences in class, through which they develop knowledge that is reflective understanding, not mere memorization” (p. 21)  When students are able to explore material and question what they are learning, it promotes positive feelings toward learning and their education.  This is made more effective when the curriculum is “situate[d] … in the themes, knowledge, cultures, conditions, and idioms of the students” which then “increases their ability to participate, because they can begin critical reflection in their own context and their own words” (p. 44 & 45).  This requires the inclusion of multicultural and diversity elements, to that the curriculum and the classroom become the “windows and mirrors” in which students can see themselves and others.  “Situated, multicultural pedagogy increases the chance that students will feel ownership in their education and reduces conditions that produce their alienation” (p. 51).

As I mentioned above, I was able to draw connections between this article and almost every previous reading:

Johnson:  “Traditionalists … present standard canons of knowledge as universal, excellent, and neutral.  They do not present them as historical choices of some groups whose usage and culture are privileged in society.  Instead, the central bank is delivered to students as a common culture belonging to everyone, even though not everyone has had an equal right to add to it, take from it, critique it, or become part of it”  (p. 32).
SCWAAMP:  “When we participate in critical classes … we can reflect on reality and on our received values, words, and interpretations in ways that illuminate meanings we hadn’t perceived before.  … As conscious human beings, we can discover how we are conditioned by the dominant ideology” (p. 22).
Delpit:  “The teacher is the person who mediates the relationship between outside authorities, formal knowledge, and individual students in the classroom.  Through day-to-day lessons, teaching links the students’ development to the values, powers, and debates in society” (p. 13).
Kozol:  School funding is another political dimension of education, because more money had always been invested in the education of upper-class children and elite collegians than has been spent on students from lower-income homes and in community colleges” (p. 15).
McIntosh:  “Because it deposits information uncritically in students, the banking model is antidemocratic.  It denies the students’ indigenous culture and their potential for critical thought, subordinating them to the knowledge, values, and language of the status quo” (p. 33).
Rodriguez:  “[Cooper] demonstrated the potential of community discourse and showed students that the conflict between their home language and the academic idiom might not require them to deny their linguistic roots” (p. 49).
Collier:  “The students created an orthography for their indigenous speech while critically studying the official idiom of Standard English.  In the process, they developed critical and creative abilities that had eluded them before” (p. 52).
August:  “The empowering teacher who denies universal status to the dominant culture also denies emptiness in students.  They are not deficits; they are complex, substantial human beings who arrive in class with diverse cultures; they have languages, interests, feelings, experiences, and perceptions.  The responsibility of the problem-posing teacher is to diversify subject matter…” (p. 32)
Kohl:  “These [negative] student affects are commonly generated when an official culture and language are imposed from the top down, ignoring the students’ themes, languages, conditions, and diverse cultures.  Their consequent negative feelings interfere with learning and lead to strong anti-intellectualism in countless students as well as to alienation from civic life” (p. 23).
Kohn:  Education can socialize students into critical through or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean” (p. 13).
Christensen:  “The goal of problem-posing dialogue is critical thinking and action, which starts from perceiving the social, historical, or cultural causes of problems in one’s life … The first step in promoting action outside the classroom is to transform education inside the classroom.”  Auerbach & Wallerstein’s quote.  (p. 43)
Kahne & Westheimer:  “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men upon their world in order to transform it.”  Friere’s quote.  (p. 33)
Kliewer:  “Human beings do not invent themselves in a vacuum, and society cannot be made unless people create it together” (p. 15).

This book was published 20 years ago, and many of the educational reformers that Shor quotes throughout the reading were published long before that – Dewey published his ideas on progressive education 50 years ago!  If these methods are as positive and effective as they certainly seem to be, why don’t we see more of it in schools today?  Shor refers to Bowles and Gintis, saying “to them, schooling supports existing power and divisions in society by sorting students into a small elite destined for the top and a large mass destined for the middle and the bottom” (p. 19).  He later adds, “there is also political opposition to student participation because it challenges power relations in school and society” (p. 33).  I don’t like it.  Why is this so difficult to change?  I realize that, to some extent, as teachers our hands are tied by elements such as the common core, standardized testing, and the decisions made by those who have never taught (or barely so).  However, the tools we’ve been given through this course will help me do my best to offer my students an empowering experience, even if it is only in my own classroom.

Point to Share:  On page 15, I highlighted this quote: “The goals of this pedagogy are to relate personal growth to public life, by developing strong skills, academic knowledge, habits of inquiry, and critical curiosity about society, power, inequality, and change” – and then I wrote “Dr. Bogad” in the margin.  Find yourself wondering what an empowering curriculum would look like in an actual classroom?  Think back through our semester in this class.  :)

If you need this week's article!! :)

If you are trying to find this week's article, it's posted under Dr. August's articles in the library reserves instead of Dr. Bogad's.  Just type in "August", and it's the Shor article under her FNED 346 class.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hyperlink for Kliewer's "Citizenship in School..."

This week’s reading, “Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome” from Christopher Kliewer’s Schooling Children with Down Syndrome, started out feeling like it was going to be a more complicated read due to the language.  To a degree, it was, but it proved to be very interesting in the end.  Kliewer argues that children with disabilities, in this case Down Syndrome, should not be segregated from general education classrooms.  Instead, he argues in favor of an inclusion model that is beneficial to disabled children in giving them the opportunity to thrive as a valued part of a community.  This is beneficial to the non-disabled students as well by creating a culture of acceptance.  This reciprocal relationship is detailed in the explanation of Shayne’s classroom:  “Community acceptance requires opportunity for individual participation in the group, but opportunity cannot exist outside of community acceptance. … Shayne felt that she broadened and strengthened the learning opportunities opened to all her children” (p. 75).  It was inspiring to see how the teachers Shayne and Colleen took the time to understand each of their students as individuals, and where their strengths and abilities were, without seeing them as disabled or non-disabled.  “Shayne recognized a child’s nonconformity as a natural human diversity; a source of strength that could be supported by the school community in order that it add a unique and valuable dimension to that community”  (p. 78).

The article reminded me of something I had seen a while back on the Today show.  Watching the segment again, I can see that what is happening at this school is exactly what Kliewer is advocating for.  The IDEAL School in Manhattan is a private school built around inclusion.  The school was founded 7 years ago by parents of children with Down Syndrome who wanted their children to have the same educational opportunities as their peers by being in classrooms together with their peers.  The school mirrors the model of Shayne’s school, in that the curriculum is built based on each child.  Though they all learn the same thing, each child has an individual learning plan.  The head of the school mentions in the clip that the social education of special needs students is just as important as academics, and for the non-disabled students, experiencing diversity is important.  They are building that reciprocal community in their classrooms.  I really admire the work that this school is doing, and the fact that it so closely resembles what Kliewer is arguing for in his book leads me to believe he would really approve of the IDEAL school’s model of inclusion.

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I was reminded of a number of themes from previous readings as I went through this article.  Here are a just a few of the quotes I highlighted:
Douglas Biklen:  Schools as cultural sorting machines that “justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students … [that] legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race … and [that] endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior.”  (p. 73)
Safe Spaces –
“To value one another is to recognize diversity as the norm.”  (p. 79)
Johnson & McIntosh –
“If a misunderstanding emerges within the act of communication, we tend to fault the party with the least amount of cultural privilege and proceed to clinically identify which element of that individual’s communication is responsible for the misunderstanding.”  (p. 94)
Brown v. Board of Education –
“Vygotsky found that the culture of segregation surrounding people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities.”  (p. 83)  The integrationists argued that effects of racial segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically.  The effects are the same with segregation based on disabilities.

Thought to Share:  When I was in the 8th grade, I joined the Peer Partners program at my middle school.  Special Education students were separated into their own classrooms at my school, and this program put general education students like myself into these special education classrooms to interact with the students and build mutually beneficial relationships.  It remains a bright spot in my school memories.  The very beginning of this article brought me back to a moment with one particular student, Rafael.  I remember going into the classroom one day, and he came racing across the room, waving a worksheet he had just gotten back.  He had gotten everything correct, and proudly showed me the sticker at the top.  He told me, “Jamie, you know what?  If I keep doing really good, they’re going to let me be in the other classes.” I didn’t really know how to respond, though I encouraged him to keep working hard.  Like Mia and Jason at the beginning of the article, Rafael was aware that he was being kept separate from where he wanted to be because of his disability.  His frustration and discouragement over that fact was regularly visible.  Realizing now that that was 16 years ago (!!!), I find myself wondering if Rafael ever had the opportunity to experience the inclusion that he so desired.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Promising Practices 11/2/13

On Saturday, November 2nd—bright and early in the morning (especially since I live 45 minutes away!)—I attended Rhode Island College’s 16th Annual Promising Practices event.   I arrived early that morning to make sure I had enough time to get checked in and settled, but as it turned out, there wasn’t much of a check-in!  After grabbing my nametag (which I thankfully discovered had my session titles on it, because I realized too late that my ticket did not have them listed), I wound up having plenty of time to find a seat near classmates from both of my classes, and chat.  Looking around, it seemed like a large portion of those in attendance were students from RIC.  Despite some of the issues raised during our class discussion of the event, I found the day to be relatively interesting.  As we’ve already discussed our impressions of the Plenary Session (and briefly, the keynote speaker) in class, I am going to focus on the individual breakout sessions I attended.

After the Plenary Session, I headed off to the first session I selected, which was Citizenship I: “Children in Central American Migrant Families: Lessons Learned from a University-Community Collaboration” & “Building an Architecture of College Inclusion for High School Language Minority Students”.  I found this session to be very interesting.  The first presenter was Prof. Kalina Brabeck.  She discussed research on deportations of undocumented immigrant parents its effects on the children (eating & sleep changes, depression, anxiety, academic decline, developmental delays), and the effects of living in undocumented status on children (low social support, stress, psychological distress, low access to services, low rates of care, cognitive delay by as much as 3 years).  In all the political discussions surrounding immigration, I feel that the children are rarely considered.  And like the children of Mott Haven that Jonathan Kozol sheds light on in “Amazing Grace”, these immigrant children are the victims of the broken immigration system, ANDusuallypoverty.  The children are affected both personally and academically, and become stuck in a cycle that is tough to break free from.  This is tackled with workshops through the Migration and Human Rights Project, which give the community correct information over media information, help families in creating plans in the event of potential deportation, and more.

The second part of the presentation discussed Project ExCEL here at Rhode Island College.  It is a program that offers access to students who performed well in high school, but are generally discouraged from attending four-year universities because of their lack of mainstream English course achievements as non-native speakers.  The option for these students is usually dropping out, or a remedial community college education.  We learned with Virginia Collier that academic language proficiency takes 5-7 years to master, and that “academic skills developed in the first language tend to automatically transfer to the second language.”  Prof. Ramirez echoed this when he said that these high rates of drop out or remedial community college occur when ESL students are mainstreamed without access to studying in their home language.  Collier would definitely approve of the Project ExCEL program, which offers supporting courses to bilingual students to encourage a sense of community and academic success.  Also, as I mentioned in class, Prof. Ramirez commented that we can't judge the effectiveness of the system based on the achievements of the exceptions (like Mayor Tavares).  Real celebration will be when we don't need to recognize that a Latino or African American "made it."  I wrote this down in the session because it is so true and really struck me, especially after the Plenary Session panel—and then I watched the Tim Wise video!  This is exactly what Wise was saying in his interview in regards to racial equity.

The second session I attended was “Engaging Students in Anti-Bullying Efforts”, with presenters Rebecca Ferry and Joseph Pirraglia.  The presenters showed us the anti-bullying program they developed at Barrington Middle School.  Even though the presentation was not specifically LGBT focused, the “Safe Spaces” reading that we did came to my mind during the presentation.  At the beginning of the article, it says, “To the extent that teachers … create an atmosphere in which difference is not only tolerated but expected, explored, and embraced, students will be more likely to develop perspectives that result in respectful behaviors.”  This is what happened at Barrington Middle School.  The presenters commented that kids can’t achieve if they don’t feel safe, and no learning will happen.  So they worked within their teams to create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable sharing and discussing.  They did this through team building activities to create a culture, and by really listening to kids in the halls and at lunch to pick up on what’s going on, so that they could address the issues.  It started small, but the students embraced it and ran with the activities, including a pledge, video, song, skits, and more.  As a result, the students are better connected to each other, there is improved academic success, and the kids are standing up for one another and are aware of social issues that they see pop up.

The presenters acknowledged that a big part of it is a change of culture, and a challenge is getting over the awkwardness of talking about social issues.  This made me think of Johnson: “You can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name it; once you name it, you can think, talk, and write about it.  You can make sense of it by seeing how it’s connected to other things that explain it and point toward a solution.”  By creating the safe space atmosphere in their teams, and becoming comfortable with talking about the social issues surrounding bullying, the students were able to build an understanding and a culture of respect in their school.

The final session I attended was “The Central Falls School District and RIC School of Social Work Collaborative: Engaging Students in the Achievement of Academic Success”.  The panel discussed the collaboration that puts Social Work students into Central Falls High School as interns, offering additional support to at-risk students.  Prior to this collaboration, the high school had only ONE social worker for up to 800 students.  I don’t know if this is a common practice, but it seems crazy to me!  What a work load for that social worker, particularly in a school with so many issues with substance abuse, homelessness, teenage parents, and domestic violence.  It was great to see how the social work interns are able to have immersive, real-world experiences with the students and the school, and be able to go back to class and instructors for support in working through the tough problems they are encountering.  I can see how the collaboration is an effective learning model both for the high school and for RIC students, and I believe the collaboration with Secondary Education will be just as beneficial.

One thing I made note of is that the Vice Principal of CFHS said that attendance at the high school is a challenge, and that it is a community issue.  The social worker, interns, teachers, and even the VP himself have gone on home visits to reinforce the importance of regular attendance to the student and to their family.  The social worker said that families tend to be apprehensive about him at first because they aren’t sure of his role, but their relationship builds once they understand that he is there to help.  This seems very Delpit to me, because the school is making an effort to teach the rules and codes of power to the student and the families to ensure the students academic and future success.

In hindsight, even though the sessions I selected were interesting, I wish I had selected some of the other ones.  Having heard about a few of them from others, I think there were ones that I may have enjoyed more.  Christina’s explanation of the “Star Power” game sounded like an interesting experience.  Also, the Advocacy II: “Creating Caring and Committed Anti-bullying Classes” & “Trans*Action: Tools for a Transgender Ally” sounded like great and informative presentations in that final session!  Ultimately, I feel that the conference was a beneficial experience for me to have, particularly as a part of this class.  Attending the conference equipped with the insight gained from our class material allowed me to see the information presented in a different, or maybe enhanced, way.

How was your day?  :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Free Write for Brown v. Board of Ed.

The landmark Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, called for equal opportunity in education through the desegregation of schools.  I learned about this case in school quite awhile back, and though I remembered the significance of it and what it established, I found the Smithsonian’s website to be great for refreshing my memory of the history of the case.  It was very interesting and informative.

One thing I noted was that the segregationists argued (in addition to their other arguments) that “inequality persisted because African Americans still needed time to overcome the effects of slavery.”  A click or two later, the idea is expanded as: “because black children were still living with the effects of slavery, it would take some time before they were able to compete with white children in the same classroom.”  What does that even mean?  And as it was 85 years after the abolition of slavery, I have to wonder what kind of time frame they had in mind.

I also noted that the integrationists argued that effects of segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically.  In Bob Herbert’s article “Separate and Unequal,” he explains that schools are no longer legally segregated, and yet they still are segregated because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and custom.  In acknowledging that, it is arguable that students today in low-income school districts are still suffering these social and psychological effects.

Herbert points out that the resistance to integrating students from low-income areas into affluent schools is because it would also mean racial and ethnic integration, and that the election of Barack Obama has not made the idea easier for those who resist it.  This ties in to what Tim Wise is talking about in his radio interview, because he says that racism is what’s real in America still.  We’re nowhere near post-racial America just because of Obama’s election.  “It would have been a front page story if racism was no longer a problem.”

The radio interview with Tim Wise also made me think of our class readings.  He talks about the notion of enlightened exceptionalism exemplified by Barack Obama’s transcending race as the “acceptable limiting archetype.”  The radio show host points out that it means being truly exceptional to break the glass ceiling, to which Wise says that, “proof of racial equity will be the day that people of color can be as mediocre as white folks.”  As McIntosh says, “I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.”  Like Wise says, if Obama had had anything like what Bush and McCain had on their track records, then as an African American man, he would not have been able to get as far as they got.  But because he is an exceptional example of an African American man, he broke through the glass ceiling.

Wise also points out that even though overt racial bias has diminished in the years since Brown v. Board, denial about the problem of white privilege hasn’t changed.  He says that you “can be a good person, a decent person, and remain oblivious and that’s where white folks have been for a long time.”  This is just like Johnson’s assertion that, “the ease of not being aware of privilege is an aspect of privilege itself, what some call ‘the luxury of obliviousness.’”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reflection on Kahne & Westheimer's "In the Service of What?"

This week’s article “In the Service of What?  The Politics of Service Learning,” by Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer, discusses the various ideologies behind the implementation of service learning projects in schools throughout the country.  The authors point out that while it is beneficial in many ways for students to have a service learning component in the curriculum, “little attention has been given to sorting out the goals and motivations that underlie the spectrum of service learning projects emerging in schools throughout the country” (p. 12).

As a senior in high school out in California, I (and many of us, as I’ve noticed in blogs so far) had to complete a required number of community service hours.  Mine was not a requirement specifically to graduate, but rather was a part of a Civics class.  For my hours, I volunteered at a local fire department – but not in the way you might think.  I ended up working in the administrative side of the building, assembling training manuals and other such projects.  My grade depended on me achieving a set number of hours, having a log of those hours signed by my supervisor, and then doing a short write-up (I wouldn’t even call it a reflection) explaining what I did.  The authors indicate that “there is reason for concern that service experiences frequently fail to achieve additive or transformative goals” (p. 11).  Looking back, this quote and the paragraph following it shed light on my experience.  My service learning followed neither the charity nor the change models discussed in the text.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it (I loved it), or that I didn’t learn anything (I did, but it was about admin work), but what did I really gain from my experience?  More than that – what was I expected to gain?  What was my teacher’s real goal for this assignment?

The authors state that “educators and legislators alike maintain that service learning can improve the community and invigorate the classroom, providing rich educational experiences for students at all levels of schooling,” and I agree with that (p. 2).  Students should have these opportunities to make a difference, whether it is helping others through charity, or studying the underlying causes of problems and issues to take action.  Personally though, I feel that the change model (or really, a combination of the two) would provide a richer educational experience for students, and it seems to me that the authors of this article would agree.  In presenting the charity models of Mr. Johnson’s class and the music class, they do share the good that came from them, but they also point out where they missed opportunities to have the students gain deeper, more meaningful connections.

“It is the combination of service and critical analysis, not either by itself, that seems most likely to promote interest and insight into these complex social issues” (p. 11).  This quote made me think of It made me think of Christensen's article from last week, where she says "I want to develop their critical consciousness, but I also hope to move them to action" (p. 134).  The analysis part of it gives students a better understanding, and that consciousness has a better chance of inspiring them to make a difference.  My service learning project for this class has been a far greater experience than my high school one for this reason.  In addition to volunteering my time to help students in a school where it is needed, I am also going in there with the knowledge and perspectives gained through our readings and discussions.  Understanding and analyzing the factors of privilege, SCWAAMP, not-learning, etc. and how they affect students and how they learn, AND seeing it in action in the classroom that I volunteer in, is a great learning experience and inspires me to be aware and make the changes needed to teach my future students well.

Questions for class:  What kind of service learning project was a part of your K-12 experience, if any?  Looking back, do you think it was well implemented?  Or would you make changes, knowing what you know now?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Connections to Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us"

I was left a little torn after reading Linda Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us."  It's not that I've never thought about the fact that these underlying themes or messages are present in the things children are exposed to.  I've noticed them myself, and have read other articles and taken part in discussions about them.  Christensen is right, they do exist -- like in this picture that Karen included on her blog for this week.

And while I'm aware Disney isn't the only target of her criticism, it is commonly referenced in these types of discussions, and it was the first thing that came to my mind.  While the older ones are more blatant, you could pick any of them apart if you really look at them.  Christensen notes: "The newer cartoons ... are subtler and take more sophistication to see through" (p. 130).  For example, The Princess and the Frog was largely viewed as a milestone for Disney because of it's introduction of an African-American princess.  Not only that, Tiana is a strong, driven female character who isn't waiting for a man to solve all her problems.  She works hard in pursuit of her dream of owning her own business, which she proceeds to do even after she becomes a princess.  This is a big departure from the earlier Disney princesses.  But people still raised issues with the lightning bug perpetuating the "uneducated southerner" stereotype, the fact that Tiana spends a big portion of the film as a frog, and the whole thing with the question surrounding Prince Naveen's race/ethnicity.  (... And what about Tiana's mom?  Isn't she a seamstress working for a rich white family?  Am I reading too much into that now?  Once you start analyzing, you can't stop!)

At the same time though, Disney was a big part of my childhood.  I loved just about anything Disney, and honestly, I still do.  I still plan on watching the movies with my kids when I have them, because it's something I would want to share with them.  And what about the positive messages in the movies?  But Christensen's article really makes you think.

This is Christensen's goal with her students -- to make them think, and as she says, to "question [the] accepted knowledge and the secret education" (p. 127).  As a future teacher, I found that I really liked the way Christensen went about it with her students.  In reading about her method, I found myself thinking of more than one of our past class readings.

- Alfie Kohn
I liked how although Christensen makes it clear to us what her opinion is regarding the messages in children's cartoons, movies, and literature, she says that she is careful not to point everything out to her students.  Instead, she poses questions and guides her students to reflect and respond in journals and in group work, allowing them to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions.  It's not so much of a "good job!" situation here, but it still made me think of how Kohn says to "talk less, ask more" so that children see the value of their work on their own.  This also kept Christensen's students interested in further dissecting what they saw.

- Allan Johnson
Towards the beginning of the article, Christensen mentions how Paolo Friere says that "instead of wrestling with words and ideas, too often students 'walk on the words'" (p. 127).  She is talking about how she uses this unit to give her students the "tools to critique media that encourage or legitimize social inequality" (p. 127), so that they are ready to talk about further class content down the line.  This reminded me (again!) of Johnson's article, and how he says that we have to be able to talk and use the words to have meaningful dialogue on issues.

- Peggy McInstosh
I also thought of Peggy McIntosh's awareness of privilege while reading Christensen's article.  The whole exercise of getting her students to think critically about the "secret education" reminded me of how McIntosh says "to redesign social issues, we need first to recognize their colossal unseen dimensions."  But Christensen goes on to say that her lesson doesn't end with her students to be able to critique what they see, because she wants to "develop their critical consciousness ... [and] move them to action" (p. 134).  Like McIntosh says, "disapproving of the system won't be enough to change them."  Christensen encourages her students to act on their convictions, and asks them to brainstorm ways in which they could do so, which they turn into projects.

Point to Share:  Do you think you will still watch Disney movies with your kids?  Or cartoons in general?  Do you think there are some that have the potential to be more "harmful" than others?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quotes for Kohl and Extended Comment on Kohn

 Quotes from Herbert Kohl's "I Won't Learn from You"

1)  “My job as a teacher was to get him to feel more empowered doing reading than practicing his active not-learning to read.  I developed a strategy of empowerment for Barry and didn’t even bother with thinking about remediation.”
            It was interesting reading about the method Kohl chose to use to reach out to Barry.  It would have been easy to assume that Barry’s behavior regarding reading was due to the fact that he couldn’t read, or had a hard time reading.  And in fact, this is what had happened with Barry’s previous teachers.  But instead, Kohl took the time to step back and figure out WHY Barry was behaving the way he was.  He recognized that it wasn’t that Barry needed any more help than other kids, but that he wanted to cling to that sense of empowerment he got from getting his way and having the other kids see him get his way.  So Kohl devised another way to give him that same sense of empowerment, but in a constructive way that got him to learn the material.  I think this is important to note – that as teachers, when a student is acting out (or shutting down), we should take a step back and try to figure out why that might be happening, which is essentially what Kohl continues to indicate throughout the article.  In the end, it could be that the student is struggling or failing.  But that might not be the case, and in assuming so without trying to see what else is going on and figuring out a different approach, the system winds up failing the student.

2)  “I learned from Akmir’s analyses … and came to take his criticisms seriously.  I tried to read texts from his point of view…. In some cases, it made reading some familiar material very uncomfortable.”
            This made me think of Johnson’s piece, when he was talking about sitting in the restaurant with his African-American colleague, and how he could feel how uncomfortable it was to talk to her about race and gender.  That was a moment where someone tapped on his glass pane (to borrow Dr. Bogad’s metaphor).  In the same way, it was uncomfortable for Kohl to read from a different perspective, because Akmir had tapped on his glass pane.  “The ease of being unaware of privilege is an aspect of privilege itself”  (Johnson 24).  Becoming aware of his privilege, and making the effort to look at things from Akmir’s view, allowed Kohl to understand just what it was that had made Akmir resistant to his schooling.  (I noticed at the beginning of this segment that Kohl said he’d “had the privilege of knowing [Akmir] for the last three years of his life” (3)  Did anyone else wonder what might have happened to him?)

3)  “Education built on accepting that truth about our society can break through not-learning and lead students and teachers together, not to the solution of problems but to direct intelligent engagement in the struggles that might lead to solutions.”
            Here, Kohl is referring to the truth that for a lot of students, the only options they feel they have are not-learning, or directly facing oppression in school.  This is going to result in students who act out, or shut down when it comes to academics.  If we accept that this as a reason for students to reject their schooling—because as Kohl says, it is “an appropriate response to oppressive education … students have no way to legitimately criticize…” (5)—then we can have the dialogue needed to address the struggle.  And as with last week’s piece, I’m reminded again of how Johnson says that we need to be able to talk if we can expect anything to change.  (I feel like I am always referring to this part of Johnson’s article!)

 Extended Comment on Alfie Kohn's "5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job"

Reading through Jaclyn’s response to Kohn’s article, “5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job,” I realized that I felt the same way the first time I read the article.  It seems almost counter-intuitive to not use praise as positive reinforcement, and it seems even more counter-intuitive that praising a child could somehow be harmful.  It’s something I hear all the time in any situation where small kids are present, and I can remember hearing it when I was little too.  How could it be bad to encourage a desired behavior, or bolster confidence?  After glancing through the article again later though, and I can understand the points that Kohn is making.  Kohn even remarks that “it can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something.”  But he’s not so much saying that you have to stop positive reinforcement altogether—though he does list “say nothing” as a possible option—but more just to modify what you are saying.  Like acknowledging what they’ve done without evaluating it.

It made me think of how I am in my SLP classroom of kindergarteners.  I’ve made a conscious effort not to say “Awesome!” for everything, though not for the reasons Kohn lists.  I just know that I tend to catch myself doing it when I’m talking to little kids.  (“That looks awesome!” “Awesome job!” “You did?  Awesome!”)  But I wonder what Kohn would say about all the high-fives I’m now doling out left and right to the kids in the class.  Is that just non-verbal praise?

Also -- I found Jennifer Lehr's website while poking around.  She lists Alfie Kohn as her hero.  Good Job and Other Things You Shouldn't Say or Do.  Interesting to look through.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

ARGUMENT of "Inside the Classroom Walls" from Vaccaro, August, & Kennedy's Safe Spaces

Image link:

           In the chapter “Inside the Classroom Walls” from Safe Spaces, authors Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy argue that it is our responsibility as educators to make a conscious effort to make our classrooms a safe and inclusive environment for LGBT students (or students from LGBT families).  In a time when LGBT bullying is rampant—all too often with heartbreaking consequences—it’s not good enough for teachers or schools to keep a neutral stance.  The authors make the point that “LGBT students need advocacy and protection, not neutrality.” (p. 84)  This reminded me of Johnson’s article, where he says that those of us in a position of privilege (or power) need to be a part of the solution instead of expecting those without it to change things themselves.  “If they could do that, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.” (Johnson p. 10)

            This begins with including positive LGBT topics in our classroom curriculum.  The absence of it contributes to these students’ feeling that they (or their families) are somehow outcasts or something other than “normal.”  Mainstream students pick up on this as well—if they are not exposed to it, it leads them to the conclusion that it must me abnormal.  Seeing themselves represented in the curriculum gives LGBT students the feeling of validation that they or their families are just another kind—that they exist and that’s okay.  “LGBT students need to see themselves in the world of ideas and experiences offered up by their teachers if they are to become academically and socially connected to the classroom.” (p. 90)  But it also has a positive effect on the mainstream students, because the more they see the topic represented, the more understanding they are likely to gain.  “The idea is that tolerance will grow as students gain appreciation for difference.”  (p. 85)  This way, our classrooms become “’mirrors and windows’ for all students—mirrors in which youth see themselves in the curriculum and recognize their place in the group; windows through which youth see beyond themselves to experiences connected with, but not identical to, their own.” (p. 88)

            Additionally, we as teachers have to be comfortable talking about the subject.  This doesn’t mean discussions of any explicit nature, but rather it means no deliberately steering conversations and discussions carefully around the subject.  It means hearing and acknowledging derogatory remarks and using them as teachable moments, as Patrick did in the reading.  The authors state: “When the words ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘transgender’ are heard positively in the course of classroom discussion, the stigma associated with them diminishes.”  (p. 99)  As Johnson tells us, we have to talk if we can expect anything to change—and we have to use the words.  Doing so removes the power they have as “bad” or “dirty” words that can be used for hate.

            While browsing for pictures for this week’s blog, I came across this poster created by (available for download from their site).  GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) believe very strongly in the argument presented in this week’s reading, and have been working for over 20 years “to ensure that LGBT students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment.”  You can find lesson plans and guides for LGBT inclusive curriculum, as well as a wealth of other helpful information.  I bookmarked this sign so that I will have it when I have my own classroom.  I can’t, as the authors note, “legislate friendships or alliances; [and I] cannot single-handedly change minds or hearts.”  But I can make sure that my classroom is a safe place for all students, not just LGBT.  And though it is wonderful to hear stories of LGBT youth who have support at home or from peers and friends, it’s important to remember that there are even more who don’t.  Posting this would let students in addition to my own know that my classroom is a safe place, and I am someone they can talk to.

Talking Point:  Did any of you participate in Rachel's Challenge while you were in high school?  I've only just learned about it, but it seems like an amazing program that works to tackle bullying in schools by creating a culture of compassion.  If you did, what were your experiences with it?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

REFLECTION on Collier's "Teaching Multilingual Children"

I’ve been looking forward to reading these articles since I printed them out last week.  My husband Luis is bilingual, and grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in San Jose, California.  His parents didn’t speak English, and he didn’t begin learning English until second grade.  We had talked about it in the past -- I’ve always been fascinated by his bilingualism, since I can’t speak another language -- and reading these articles made me curious to talk to him about it again.
Luis in First Grade :)

Luis experienced the style of bilingual education promoted by Virginia Collier in the article “Teaching Multilingual Children.”  Due to the large Latino population in San Jose, the elementary school that he attended offered a Bilingual Education program.  His teachers spoke and instructed both in Spanish and in English, and the “eradication” that Collier frowns upon in Guidelines #2 & #3 was never a part of his education.  He was never made to feel ostracized, or wrong, or like an outsider for using Spanish in the classroom.

He also benefitted from what Collier explains in Guideline #6 as establishing literacy in his primary language first.  As Collier says the research shows, “the most successful long-term academic achievement occurs where the students’ primary language is the initial language of literacy.” (p. 233)  She goes on to say that “dismiss[ing] the home language in literacy development places immigrant children at risk...[which] does not recede over time, but accumulates.”  (p. 233)  By learning to read and write in Spanish first, Luis was then able to transfer the literacy skills he obtained into learning to read and write in English.  This enabled him to keep pace with his peers, instead of struggling with literacy in the second language which may have caused him to fall behind.

In kindergarten, it was mostly Spanish with a little English.  First grade added a little more English, and by second grade, instruction was about 50/50.  At this point, Luis’ natural curiosity with English took hold (he remembers wanting to understand what the English speaking kids were talking or joking about -- the group would talk and laugh, but he couldn’t understand what was funny).  The way he had been taught up to that point motivated him to transition, which was nurtured and encouraged by the teacher he remembers as very influential to him.  By third grade, Luis was in an English-only classroom.

I asked Luis if he thought his K-12 experience would have been different if he hadn’t had access to this program.  He said that it’s likely that he would have had a harder time learning English, and thus a harder time with learning in general.  Being made to feel “wrong” for speaking Spanish (and not having and understanding of English from home) could have been discouraging, or made him prone to giving up quicker.  In the long run, his opportunity to begin his school experience in Bilingual Education gave him successful footing to do well in the rest of his schooling.

Talking Point:  The population of Latinos in Luis’ community made funding of a Bilingual program in his school both necessary and possible.  For schools without a high population, yet with some ELL students, the same level of support often isn’t an available because of a lack of funding.  Does the system fail these students?  What can be done to give them similar chances at success?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

QUOTES from Kozol's Amazing Grace

Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace was an eye opener for me.  It's not as though I was oblivious to the fact that there are poor areas in the country, but I guess I had never considered just how poor, and just how harsh the realities are to face for those who live in, raise children in, or even grow up in such an area.  Reminiscent of what we've read in other articles, the appearance of "they" throughout this article illustrates how the members of this South Bronx community are most aware of the power/privileges they don't have.

1)  "'The point is that they put a lot of things into our neighborhood that no one wants,' she says."  (p.10)

Cliffie's mother tells Kozol about how their marginalized community has become a dumping ground.  People from other areas come in to dump their junk, the city put in a garbage dump and a medical waste incinerator (both of which contribute to the widespread asthma in the children), and the city relocated homeless families here, putting many sick people and children together in a very small area.  Those with power have decided that it's okay for the people of this neighborhood to live in such conditions.

2)  "'My doctor says, when it comes to the poor, they can't get nothin' right.'"  (p. 20)

Mrs. Washington explains to Kozol that, after an error in the system kicked her off of receiving her assistance, there is a myriad of hoops to jump through to get back into the system.  She is too sick to work to provide for herself, but "they" (the city/state/government) says she is not "sick enough" to receive SSI assistance.  Here, those in power have the privilege to determine who can be helped and by how much.  And even if someone is dying, it is crazy to think that that might not be enough.

3)  "Somebody has power.  Pretending that they don't so they don't need to use it to help people--that is my idea of evil."  (p. 23)

Mrs. Washington's son, David, opens up to Kozol about how his mother doesn't deserve to be so sick and helpless, just because those in power remain at a distance and withhold help from those who are not in a position to help themselves.  This quote immediately made me think of the Johnson article, where he says: "[People] don't have the power to change entrenched systems of privilege by themselves.  If they could do that, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place."  (p. 10)

To Share:  David tells Kozol: "There's a whole world out there if you know it's there, if you can see it.  But they're in a cage.  They cannot see." (p. 24)  He is referring to the people in his community who are stuck in this cycle with no means of getting out.  To me, it seems the best hope is to begin with the children.  Programs like Head Start offer such an opportunity (for Angel Tavares, as an example), yet they continue to face steep cuts.  Why?  If we keep taking away opportunities, how can we expect anything to change?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

About Me

Hi Everyone!

I have never blogged before, and suddenly here I am with two!  (I also have one for another class I am currently taking.)

This is my first semester at Rhode Island College, and it's also my first semester in school in six years!  I graduated from San Diego State University in 2007 with a B.A. in English, and I am now returning to school for my teacher certification for Secondary English through the RITE program.  Becoming a teacher is something I always knew was in my future, so finally getting started on this chapter in my life is a very exciting thing!

Since graduating from SDSU, I have worked as an enrollment advisor for an online university, as a coordinator for a small publishing company, and as a bookkeeper for a construction company -- all very different and interesting experiences!  I met my husband Luis the summer after I graduated, and we got married two years ago.  Moving from San Diego to Newport last summer was a big adventure, as was our first "real" winter!

I lovelovelove to read and devoured many books this summer.  I'm always open to book suggestions.  I also love cooking, the beach, anything Disney, space, and my pets - a chihuahua named Pancho and a tuxedo cat named Wyatt.  :)

Me in a nutshell!  See you all in class.