Friday, October 26, 2007

from our 504 class today, a digital story about the end of the world, thanks to the damn conceptual terrorists.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

happy halloween...

october bulletin board
Originally uploaded by writeinblue
read a good booooooooooooooook. ha ha. our classroom bulletin board for this past month. some suggestions from books i'm reading:

- gender play by barrie thorne
- gender: an ethnomethodological approach by suzanne kessler and wendy mckenna
- hope was here by joan bauer (young adult book, teaching next spring)
- homeboyz by alan sitomer (young adult book, teaching next spring)
- teaching community: a pedagogy of hope by bell hooks
- sister outsider by audre lorde
- black feminist thought by patricia hill collins
- the watsons go to birmingham (young adult, teaching right now)
- persepolis (graphic novel) by marjane satrapi

anyhoo... back to class.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

i am claiming closet traditionalist

"science is a self-evaluating way of viewing the world". -michael's dad
(a quote that came from a conversation about how knowledges need to be continually revised, but in dominant culture "fact" stays "fact" even after it is disproven)

in our methods class last night, we were sharing our records of practice on our "Challenges of Teaching Writing" project, a mixture of video interviews, student work, and other proof of our mentor teachers' approach to grammar vs. content, in different genres of writing (personal essay, analytical essay, informal journaling). i admit that i am a stickler for grammar, which makes it unfortunate sometimes when i see my students' writing that has potential, but lacks mechanics. i do think that i'm doing a disservice to my students if i don't comment on these errors and set high expectations for their written work, but the reality of the situation (as i recorded in a really great interview with my mentor today) is that they don't tend to remember these things year to year (it's like they forget them over the summer!)

gillian termed me a closet traditionalist, because it would appear from the surface of my positionality that i would be less-focused on traditional aspects of teaching english, and more toward progressive models. while i do aim to teach for understanding of concepts, themes, connecting prior knowledge to text... i think that syntactical structures for writing (be it personal, creative or analytical, expository) are crucial for being able to effectively communicate your ideas. for me, this is not an arbitrary stance, but incredibly political.

i aim to educate my students in the language of power (orwell) in order to empower them in having access to a world that they may not choose to participate in (i.e. dominant or mainstream culture, the business world, etc.), but i do not have the right, as a teacher, to decide for them their destiny by allowing them to not learn standard English. i also think it's crucial for ME to respect and learn AAVE, Spanish and the other languages that my students speak, and have a responsibility to educate myself, because i don't believe that they dominant language is the most important one for them to learn, or that it holds authority over all other forms, dialects of English (or other languages), but being that we live in a society that values standard English and literacy in it as cultural currency directly related to success, I want my students to know it, so that they can subvert it.

i have always believed in the power of changing the system by infiltrating it, so perhaps that's why i would not seem at first glance to believe in tradition... but i think it's important to know it in order to fight it, in a certain sense. more on this later.

and now for something completely different, a video about fall colors (as taken on the train to chicago last weekend), featuring the sounds of my good friend krts.

the forest falls

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

quick links and a lil diatribe.

first of all, tou fue posted this about the achievement gap between white and black students (always the binary) in Ann Arbor Public Schools. I found it incredibly interesting (and not surprising) because we often look at the disparities between two communities (Savage Inequalities), but not often does the microscope turn intracommunity. So, when the same amount of money is spent on students and the achievement gap is still there, we know that you can't just throw money at the problem, that there is something much more inherent in the culture of our school systems that fosters some students to excel, while tracking and limiting others. Ah, how schools are a microcosm of society.

and then this, which makes me incredibly upset as it speaks to the fact that while many folks trapse through this country thinking that racism is done and over with, it's acts like these (and like the jena 6 series of events, which also started with nooses) that eerily recall a period of time not so long ago in our nation's history when it was not just nooses being hung, but people in those nooses.

And to pull the two together, while slavery has been over for nearly 150 years, and while there were some major advances in civil and educational rights for people of color in the 60's and 70's, the long-lasting effects are still evident in so many ways, from the digital divide to the achievement gap, from graduation rates to MEAP test scores, from who goes to college and who doesn't to the occupations that we "choose" (because is it always choice? and if so, choice for whom? and how does social culture and structure affect choice?) and how they affect wealth and socioeconomic upward mobility.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

careful caution while proceeding.

"Pedagogy that begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization." -Paulo Freire.

I want to tread carefully when I talk about this, because it is not meant to implicate anyone as dehumanizing their students. It is surely a critique that I too must internalize and think about very critically and seriously, but it's just something I want to bring light to. I've been re-reading some of my old critical theory faves (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Pedagogy of the City both by Paulo Freire, Teaching Community, A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks and We Make the Road By Walking by Paulo Freire and Myles Horton) and I want to keep in mind that while we're all seeking to empower our students through the skills that we can teach them, it is dangerous to approach students from a paternal perspective, where we set ourselves up as the "hero" that "saves" them from (i.e. Dangerous Minds' message) as this perspective is based on a power dynamic that reinforces social, racial and economic classes as they are. This is not revolutionary or emancipatory education.

This topic comes to mind because it is a mistake that lots of educators make, with regard to caring about their students and believing that they wholeheartedly have their students' best interests in mind. Sometimes I think that white educators go into urban schools because they will feel better about themselves at the end of the day, for doing "the good, Christian work" of helping others, but what Freire is saying is that if we adopt that attitude when approaching our students, we are doing nothing to disrupt power structures and free them from oppression. It definitely takes shape when teachers are making the choice as to where they want to work and examining why. Lots of educators go with the "I want to work in urban public schools, those poor kids" train of thought, which seems altruistic at first glance, but is really more selfish and egotistic than the hypothetical-teacher-in-question could ever dream of. What assumptions about the lives and experiences of your students do you make when you approach it this way? How can you effectively engage them? What will you do on a daily basis to ensure that they are getting what they need to walk away from school more prepared for a world that is set-up to deny them their right to a prosperous life? What skills can you teach them to survive in their reality? What is the disconnect between what the state says they need to learn and what they will actually use?

I'm not expressing myself very clearly today because I have a lot of assignments weighing heavily on my brain. But I guess I can tell you now that there are some educators I've known who are not even on the level of misguided attempts at altruism by choosing jobs in the city; I've run into many people who flat out will not work in urban schools, but who "admire" me for my decision to firmly plant my feet in my home and look around me, telling my students that they can do this. Who want to hear the exploitative stories of how rough my school is and of the gang violence and teen pregnancy, because it continues to feed their stereotypes about who my students are and what they are capable of. Yes, they have a lot more to deal with on a daily basis, but I should not be celebrated for choosing to work with them, how racially charged is that when you remove it from context? I feel an obligation to their survival as a fellow human being, and try to open up doors out the ghetto (and even within the ghetto) for them through teaching them how to critically think about themselves in the world, and how to read and write exceptionally well.

It's so damn difficult, especially during standardized tests, to look at the girl who came to school starving, soaked in the rain from walking a mile without an umbrella, and think that she could ever be expected to perform at the same level as a her suburban white counterpart, who came to school with a full belly, had a ride from a loving parent and a lunch made with care. The fact that these inequities still exist and will continue to exist until our society also begins to see value in all people is disheartening, yes, but inspiring in its great challenge.

Anyway, this is in the vein of teachers needing to be advocates for their students, but if we are going to take on the task of teaching, we need to destroy this authoritative context to our work. Yes, we have a curriculum to teach, but what do they already know? It is our job in seeking to be effective teachers that we begin by getting to know who they are and what they know already, and then finding ways to make our curriculum relevant to their lives. But first we need to make their lives relevant to us, see how we are all interconnected and think long & hard about where we choose to work and what factors inform that decision.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

my inner over-achiever is an effeminate man.

we decided that rachel's inner overachiever is a large burly man.
michael's inner overachiever is a voluptuous woman.
my inner overachiever is an effeminate man.

these personifications as applied to our collective overachievers seem to fit incredibly well, toward the nature of their effects on our styles of working. just an interesting moment in after-school thinking that pleases me because of the gender-bending aspect. (for context, these make particular sense when you consider our physical comportment...)

i've been thinking much about my sociology of gender class as i approach technology in the classroom these days, and many of the gendered ways that my students see and interact with technology (re: boys being the ones to help me or my mentor teacher by coming up to the front of the classroom and attempting to help us fix the overhead/computer/printer/AV equipment) and their roles in the classroom, as far as participation in discussions, handing out papers/materials (a "girl's job" as described by rick in 4th hour, though this particular gangsta 14 year old is self-assured enough to volunteer for it all the time. love him).

in middle school particularly, the presence of gender is incredibly flagrant sometimes -- from physical seats that students take in class (Barrie Thorne, Gender Play, Boys and Girls together, but mostly apart), to the roles and personalities of students within the classroom (i.e. louis taking the role of the "class clown" sometimes as he uses humor in a masculine attempt to devalue what we're reading as "stupid" and "girly" if it pertains to poetry/creative writing). It seems sometimes that the boys are afraid to admit that they understand, connect with a text or answer questions and prompts from the teacher, or will be more apt to make fun of a character, emotion or idea that is deemed by their peers as feminine, in order to place themselves directly in contrast and masculinize their presence vocally in the classroom. i'm also reminded of herbert kohl's book "i won't learn from you", and it's been years since i've read it, but specifically, willful not-learning as a statement of defiance, with regard to race and assimilation into dominant culture.

i think often about how English, as a subject in school, has been gendered as a class in which females are culturally expected to excel (especially in the creative sections) and males are culturally expected to disengage in English/Language Arts and excel in the science/math/computer realm. we talked about this extensively in our digital divide presentation a few weeks ago and i notice it also in how teachers can be gendered in the subject area they teach (many, but not all of course, English teachers are women). within my school, i also notice that there is a technology coordinator who is female and teaches computer classes, and a male computer teacher, who is often the person to whom questions about how the school network is configured are defaulted, even though ms. yglesias was the person to set-up the network.

anyway, these classes are intersecting in very interesting ways, and as we're looking at how children perform and are socialized into gender as they enter into school, and how students have agency in their own perceptions and performances of gender, but how their interactions (within a structural and cultural context) are integral in kids understanding their own gender and what "gender" means in their lives (run-on sentence, i'm aware). we're specifically looking at kids entering school (at 4 and 5 years old), though of course, i'm noticing how all of this is present and prevalent in my middle school students, very visibly in their bodies and interactions, as they're all dealing with becoming adults in a very stagnantly gendered society. what is their specific developmental stage and heavy peer-influenced interaction shaping in their minds as we speak? what notions of gender are they undoing and defying as they learn to interpret this new territory? what borders are they crossing to test the limits? i have so many questions for them.

and as always, you cannot divorce gender from the ways that race, ethnicity and class affect the lives of students... as what it means to become a Mexican-American woman in Detroit to my 8th graders is different from it means to become a Caucasian-American woman in Ann Arbor in 8th grade, and this process of understanding and emulating begins very early, though i have to say -- it is incredibly interesting to me to take a look at how socially reinforced some of these behaviors are, by both fellow students and teachers/administrators in the building.

just some thoughts...