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

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           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?