Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shor: Talking Points-Connections


     I feel that Ira Shor's piece "Education is Politics" was a great choice for our last reading of the semester because it can be connected to so many of the pieces we've read.  In this piece, Shor talks about the importance of learning socialization in the classroom.  He also believes that teachers must run a democratic classroom in which students are encouraged to question everything.  In an authoritative classroom, teachers have all the power, and the students are just meant to listen, observe and regurgitate facts and figures.  In a democratic classroom, the students steer the learning and take ownership over it.  

      Shor comments on how as hard as we sometimes try, no curriculum can be neutral.  He says, "All forms of education are political because they can enable or inhibit the questioning habits of students, thus developing or disabling their critical relation to knowledge, schooling, or society.  Education can socialize students into critical thought or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of the mind or passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do or what things mean."  Ever since we can remember, we're taught to listen to authority and not ruffle any feathers.  Many administrators think that the ideal classroom is a group of students sitting quietly listening to the teacher lecture.  Shor is saying that there is no give-and-and take in that kind of learning, and students are not being taught how to think critically.  

      I found many connections to previous selections in this reading by Shor.  The one that jumped out at me the most was the connection to the Gerri August reading.  She talks a lot of how Zeke practices "democratic pedagogy" in his kindergarten classroom.   There's a quote in the August piece that I think Shor would very much agree with about a democratic society.  I think the word "society" could easily be replaced with the word "classroom."  It defines a democratic society/"classroom" as:  "The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the fully import of their activity."  This quote makes each person/student accountable for contributing something to the class, and it equates the classroom to a kind of "community", which is one of Shor's visions for empowering students.  

     Shor also points out that in a democratic classroom, "the teacher leads and directs the curriculum, but does so democratically with the participation of the students, balancing the need for structure with the need for openness.  To be democratic implies orienting subject matter to the student culture-their interests, needs, speech and preceptions-while creating a negotiable the openness in class where the student's imput jointly creates learning process."  (pg. 16).  I think the examples of the lessons in Zeke's classroom illustrate this type of learning perfectly.  Zeke was guiding the learning process in his lessons, but some of the subject matter that he chose (teaching Who's in a Family, Tango Makes Three, and talking about the 6-year old hero from New Orleans), closely related to the his students' lives.  Zeke was the one in charge, but he gave his students an active role in the classroom in a safe environment where they felt safe to share, listen, and learn. 

     Often times teachers (including myself), feel a constant need to be "in control."  However, the Shor and August readings taught me that it's okay to relinquish a little of that control to my students once in awhile and give them a chance to guide the learning.  As educators, if we encourage every student to have a voice in the classroom then hopefully the end result will be a feeling of empowerment by both the students and the teacher.  

August: Talking Points-Extended Comments

     In Gerri August's "Making Room for One Another", she observes a kindergarten classroom at the Horton School, an urban, public charter school.  The kindergarten teacher, Zeke Lerner, practices a highly democratic pedagogy in his teaching.  August observed his teaching practices with his kindergarten class (which she refers to as the ZK), and focuses on one particular student, Cody- a Cambodian boy who was adopted by two lesbian mothers.  August's research centered around the following question, "What happens when a child with lesbian parent and children from other non-dominant family structures share their family stories (via oral narrative, artwork, or writing) in a classroom that is led by a teacher committed to democratic pedagogy?" (pg. 3).   The interesting twist was that August wasn't really able to answer this question, since Cody really didn't share much about his home life with his classmates.  However, as August points out, the lack of data was just as meaningful and relevant to the study and that is what she ended up analyzing and interpreting.  

     This article hit very close to home for me because I actually taught a student with lesbian moms last year.  Nick (name changed) was a white student and they adopted him when he was just an infant.  His moms are very involved in the school and have been visible in the school community since Nick was in kindergarten.  One of his moms was even the President of the HSA (Home School Association).  I think since they have both always been around and nobody has given the situation any extra attention; the children really don't know anything else.  For Mother's Day, Nick made two projects and cards and for Father's Day he made the gift for his Grandfather.  Nick included both his moms in everyday conversations with myself and his peers, his writing pieces, and his artwork.  After reading this article, I would be curious to speak to Nick's kindergarten teacher to see if he and his classmates were always this well-adjusted, or if it took some time to get to this place.     
      I teach at a Catholic school, so for lesbian moms to send their sons there (Nick has an older adopted brother as well),  might be seen by ultra-conservatives as something you just don't do.  However, as far as I know, no one has had any issues with it.  They are both great moms (although they have recently separated), and like any other parents, they just want what's best for their children.    This cartoon seemed very fitting...

       I decided to extend Nina's comments in my blog, specifically the quotes that she chose.  The first quote Nina chose from August said, "If educators understand that society is in the process of being both preserved and transformed by our collective activities, then we will see our classrooms as activity systems that have both roots and wings."  Nina talked about the changing world in her response to this quote, and I couldn't agree more.  If we as teachers don't adapt to the changes going on in the world today, then we are doing our students a huge disservice.  Some would say that Zeke is "pushing the envelope" in his classroom, but I would argue that he is just keeping up with today's ever-changing world.  He is exposing his students to all different things, so they'll be more equipped and prepared when they get into the real world.  When teaching a Unit on Families, Zeke does not just teach about the so-called "normal" family.  Of course, that is included in his teaching, but like Nina said, he expands on that norm and branches out to other types of families so that all the kids are included. 

     Nina's second quote that she picked from August said, "He (Zeke) wanted students to stretch their social schemas that were already constrained by dysconscious biases."  I thought Nina interpreted this quote really well when she said, "Zeke was trying to create a more democratic classroom, which means a classroom accepting of everyone in it.  It was a class where differences were embraced, validated and supported no matter what their "social schema" or view of how society is organized and works."  I thought this point was illustrated to perfection with the pajama example.  One of the students walked in with shorts that looked like pajamas, and one of the other students started laughing and pointing.  Instead of chastising the student for criticizing the other, Zeke turned it around on himself and told the students he had a pair of shorts just like them at home.  With this simple statement, it took the attention off of the child and made him feel like he had an ally in Zeke.  It probably only took less than a minute, but Zeke took a negative comment and turned it into a teachable moment.  

     Nina's third quote from the August piece was, "
Without a moral imagination that includes the expectation and valuing of diversity, without engendering a commitment to widen our circle to make room for one another, our children will be ill prepared to work toward our collective progress."   I thought it was an excellent metaphor that Nina used to compare the Circle Time in Zeke's classroom to opening up our circle in society to make room for each other's differences.  If we can't learn to not just accept, but welcome differences in one another, then our personal "Circle of Society" is going to be very small, narrow, and boring.  

This is an interesting study that claims that children of lesbian parents are very well-adjusted.

This YouTube video is from the show "What Would You Do?"  Actors play gay and lesbian parents that are taking their children out to eat.  The homophobic waiter is also an actor and refuses to serve shows peoples' reactions (and non-reactions).  Very interesting video, I was amazed at how many people said they just "didn't want to get involved."  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rodriguez & Collier- Talking Points: Argument


     The two articles that we read this week were very different in that one was more of a personal narrative and the other was a more informative, technical piece.  However, both had very powerful insights on the struggles that ESL or ELL students go through when learning a new language.  I've never taught ESL or ELL children before, so I have limited knowledge and even more limited experience on the topic.  I enjoyed reading both these articles and it gave me a deeper perspective on this subject.  

     In "Aria," Richard Rodriguez tells his own personal story of what it was like for him as a Spanish-speaking student in an English speaking classroom.  He spoke of how he considered Spanish a "private" language, because it was only supposed to be spoken at home, and how English was a "public" language, a language to use in everyday society.  Rodriguez talks about how one day three nuns came to his house to encourage his parents to start speaking English at home with their children.  From this day forward, nothing was the same.  One quote that I found particularly poignant was one Rodriguez remarked, "At last, at seven years old, I came to believe what had been technically true since my birth:  I was an American citizen."  But the special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then.  Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home, rare was the experience of feeling myself individualized by family intimates."  Rodriguez felt that part of his family identity had been stripped away because his family was no longer speaking their native language at home.  

     In "Teaching Multilingual Children," Virginia Collier says that everything about teaching multilingual children depends on one key concept- "The key is the true appreciation of the different linguistic and cultural values that students bring into the classroom."  She outlines seven key guidelines that are meant to help teachers better understand how to teach English to second-language learners. 

     This issue is worthy of our attention as educators because both Rodriguez and Collier claim that too much attention is giving on just learning English, and in the process, students' native language and cultural identity is being brushed aside.  As Collier remarks in her third guideline, "Don't teach a second language in any way that challenges or seeks to eliminate the first language."  I think Rodriguez could relate very well to this statement, as his native language was all but obsolete after the nuns came to visit his home.  Instead of English being the be all and end all, bilingual and ESL teachers need to find a way to appreciate the student's native language while teaching them a new one.  

     As we saw in the Rodriguez piece, there are major consequences when teachers only focus on teaching English and do not encourage the student's native language.  Rodrigues remarked about his father (who he always assumed was shy), "But my father was not shy, I realized, when watching him speaking Spanish with relatives.  Using Spanish, he was quickly effusive.  Especially when talking with other men, his voice would spark, flicker, flare alive with sounds.  In Spanish, he expressed ideas and feelings he rarely revealed in English.  With firm Spanish sounds, he conveyed confidence and authority English would never allow him."  

     Where does this leave bilingual learners?  Obviously, English must be taught to children that are second-language learners, neither Rodriguez or Collier disputes that.  However, the way that English is taught is up for debate.  Both authors agree that for a teacher to dismiss the home language of the student and not cultivate that along with teaching them English is doing a huge disservice to the child.  Collier also goes so far as to say that enriching the native language of the student will also benefit the other students in the classroom as well as the teacher.  

This video chronicles the history of bilingual education. 


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Meyer: Talking Points- Questions


     This article was extremely interesting and eye-opening to me.  What surprised me the most was not how much gendered harassment is going on in secondary schools, but the lack of intervention by teachers and administrators.  As a fourth grade teacher, I don't see much of this type of bullying in my classroom (luckily), but it sickens me to think about these kids in middle and high school that are being treated so cruelly and nothing is being done about it.  

     On the other hand, it's very easy to judge and criticize these teachers and administrators until you are actually in their shoes.  I loved how the article had actual excerpts from the teacher interviews and that they spoke so candidly about their positions.  Teachers have so many demands, and several commented that they just have too much to do in class and often let this kind of stuff slide.  The teachers also said that they don't get the backing from the administration, so some of their attitudes were, "why even bother when nothing is going to be done?"  Moreover, many (especially teachers that were gay, bisexual, women, or people of color), felt that they needed to protect themselves and walk on eggshells.  They didn't want to stir the pot, so to speak, even though they related most closely to those students who were being bullied because they had been through very similar experiences.  The teachers also commented on lack of training in their teacher education programs on how to deal with instances of bullying in the classroom.  Lastly, consistency was a huge theme that ran throughout this entire article.  There is a definitely problem when teachers are not on the same page with what they punish students for and what they tolerate in the classroom.  As Meyer stated, "Many teachers felt that they could not defend taking certain actions against students if other teachers were not addressing those same issues."

     This thought-provoking article raised many questions for me as an educator.  Here are just a few that came to mind:

1)  As teachers, we are taught to have a zero-tolorance policy against bullying.   In Meyer's article, a teacher remarks how a racist comment was not tolerated and dealt with immediately, but when a kid called another kid a 'faggot', she had to push for action and for it to be addressed.  Why do we turn to other way and ignore certain types of bullying, while others are dealt with immediately? Who decides what kinds of behaviors and slurs are "acceptable?"  If the school truly has a zero tolerance policy (which all schools should), then why do some bullying behaviors rank above others?  

2)  With bullying being such a huge issue in schools today (cyber-bullying in particular), why are education majors not required to take a class that focuses solely on addressing these issues in the classroom? When I was an undergrad, we had to take a classroom management class, but I don't remember it focusing on bullying at all.  Hopefully things have changed, and that topic is addressed to college students studying to be educators.  If not, why isn't more training being offered to teachers on how to deal with such behaviors?  

3)  One of the quotes that I found most interesting was when Meyer said, "The lack of consistency in reporting and response to such incidents among colleagues and the lack of a clear policy and definitions to guide teachers in the classrooms and hallways were significant obstacles these teachers faced in their school cultures."  Students can sense when there is a lack of consistency among teachers, and most are going to push the boundaries and try to get away with whatever they can.  As educators, are you influenced by what your colleagues are doing in their classrooms, and do you feel the pressure to follow suit?  Or, do you try to march to the beat of your own drum and hold yourself to your own standards, not just to those of your school/district?  

4)  Meyer speaks about "barriers" in her article.  She defines these external barriers as:  lack of support from administration, lack of formal education, inconsistent response from colleagues, and fear of parent backlash and negative community response.  Since every district or even every school is different, which of these barriers do we face?  Which ones are more prevalent?  Which ones will be the hardest to overcome and why?  

5) There is a fine line that we, as educators, have to walk (especially those without tenure), when bringing up issues to administration.  We want our administrators to address and follow through with these issues, but yet we don't want to seem like we can't handle our classrooms, or be that high-maintenance teacher that goes to our administration for every little thing.  How do we open the doors of communication between teachers and administrators, and not make it "all about the adults?"  If the main focus is the students, shouldn't we be working together to protect them, and not have to worry about protecting ourselves and our jobs? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Karp: Talking Points- Hyperlinks


     In Karp's response to the film "Waiting for Superman", he asks the question, "Who's bashing teachers and public schools, and what can we do about it?"  He mentions all the people who have opinions about the topic of public schools; most of whom don't really know what they are talking about.  Although Karp agrees that there are some very serious problems in the public school system as we know it, he still is an advocate of public education.  
     Karp disagrees vehemently with the film "Waiting for Superman" and says that it's central message is that "public education is failing because of bad teachers and their unions and that charter schools are the solution."  

       Karp also talks a bit about the controversy in Central Falls, RI.  He disagrees with the President and Secretary of Education Duncan for being in agreement with the decision to fire the entire staff for it's low performance of standardized tests.  This leads to the question, will more school districts follow suit and fire their teachers if their students fail to make the grade?

The following is a link to an article posted on about the firing of teachers in Central Falls.  We made national history with this decision.  

This decision to fire all the teachers was supported by Deborah Gist, Rhode Island's Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The decision did not go over as well with the teachers and students.  

Another point in the film "Waiting for Superman" that Karp disagrees with is the idea of merit pay.  Karp states that, "The merit pay plans would also require yet another massive increase in standardized testing to deal with the fact that less than 25% of teachers in most school systems teach Math and Language Arts which is what most states currently test."  

The trailer for "Waiting for Superman."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kozol: Talking Points- Argument

  In "Still Separate, Still Unequal", Kozol argues that schools in the United States are still very much segregated.  In fact, Kozol says that in the last decade, there has been a resurgence in what he calls "resegregation" indicating that we are moving backwards as a nation.  Kozol talks a lot about diversity in this article, or lack there of.  He references several school districts around the country that claim to be "diverse."  However, when delving deeper, he found that these so-called diverse schools are made up of mostly African-American or Hispanic students; in some cases these children make up 99% of the school population!
     Kozol writes about the problems in inner-city schools, such as: unsanitary conditions, structurally unsound buildings, no art or music programs, nonexistent libraries, deficient medical facilities, etc.  One principal that he spoke to remarked, "This would not happen to white children." The bottom line is that the white kids "have" and the other kids "do not have."
     Inequities between per-pupil cost are also addressed in this article.  Kozol gives the example that in 1997-1998 a third-grade student in a New York City school was given about $8,000 per year.  If that student was in a typical white suburb of New York, she would have received an education worth about $12,000 a year.  And if she was in one of the wealthiest white suburbs, she would have received a yearly education worth about $18,000.  There are also some major inequities in teacher salaries between city schools compared with upper-middle class income schools.
     Kozol speaks about an unequal playing field for white children and inner city children that starts as early as age two.  Often times the white children are send to private preschools or "Baby Ivies" that cost as much as $24,000 a year.  As Kozol poignantly remarks, "There is something deeply hypocritical about a society that holds an eight-year-old inner-city child 'accountable' for her performance on a high-states standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years ago."  In other words, these kids coming into kindergarten already have such an advantage over the inner city kids.  Is it really fair to even try to compare the two?
     As I was looking for a solution to this problem in the article, I came up a little empty.  Kozol talks about the SUCCESS FOR ALL (SFA) program that was adapted in many inner city schools.  This is a type of scripted curriculum that is very routine and regimented.  One teacher remarked, "I can do this with my dog."  There was even a "Rubric for Filing", which graded children on how they walked in lines down the hallway.  Kozol is definitely not an advocate for the this method, and remarks later that this teaching technique has been discontinued in New York City but it is still being used in 1,300 schools across the United States.
     Although there was no real direction for where we should go from here, Kozol makes one thing crystal clear- what we are doing currently is not working.  We're not narrowing the achievement gap, we're actually widening it.  We're not desegregating schools, we're actually resegregating them.   Like the Delpit and Johnson articles, I got the impression that Kozol believes that the people in power need to be the ones to make the change (or at least start it).  He says this about change, "If it takes people marching in the streets and other forms of adamant disruption of the governing civilities, if it takes more than litigation, more than legislation, and much more than resolutions introduced by members of Congress, these are the prices we should be prepared to pay."