Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Semester One

Where we started, where we are, and where we're going....

...I'm so excited and lucky to share this part of my education journey with such an amazing group of inspiring teachers and dedicated learners. Here's to many more colorful semesters together. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Golden Rule for a Democratic Education: Treat People the Way Dogs Would Treat Them

From: "Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome" - Christopher Kliewer

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When we started this course, one of the first activities we did asked us to reflect on certain privileges that people who fit into the dominant ideology (based on Straightness, Christianity, Whiteness, Able-bodiedness, American-ness, Male-ness, Property Ownership) take for granted on a daily basis. When thinking about able-bodiedness, it was easy to understand how an individual in a wheelchair may not be able to participate fully in a world/school/classroom unless it was specifically designed to include him or her. It wasn't until just a few weeks ago that I understood more fully the term "able-bodied," how many individuals don't live up to the dominant ideology's expectations, the infinite ways that their voices and experiences are silenced...and how much our schools are at fault for maintaining the status quo. 

Kliewer poignantly states that "acknowledging students with Down syndrome as thoughtful, creative, and interested learners with personal identities that distinguish them from all other people suggests an individual value that enhances any context containing the child" (86). Each individual student, disabled or non-disabled, has a unique viewpoint and experience that they can share with their classmates. Their classmates, in turn, build webs and connections to these people and experiences; Vygotsky's research and writing clarifies the understanding that children are "active constructors of knowledge who constantly enter into new relationships of understanding with adults, peers, and materials," leading to "...constant reformulation and recontextualization of understanding" (82). Kliewer refers to Vygotsky's findings and relates them to the "culture of segregation" that is usually associated with children that have mental disabilities, such as those with Down syndrome. 

Two weeks ago, I covered the isolation classroom for students with special needs at the middle school after teaching my two classes. In this room, there are between four and seven students at any given time (depending on when particular students attend extracurricular classes), and four adults. Two of the students aren't in any inclusion classes, and only leave the room to use the bathroom and go to lunch. Three of these students have Down syndrome, and the others have moderate-severe disabilities that prevent them from joining an inclusion classroom. The work they are asked to do is boring, and the day seems to revolve around having something (busywork, games, etc.) for the students to do so they won't act out and misbehave. This isn't the only thing that bothers me about that classroom. 

What I noticed during the days I covered the isolation room was that when regular-education (non-disabled) students came into the room for advisory, they walked straight past the other students and huddled in the back corner, trying not to make eye contact with any of them. There were no friendly exchanges or advisory games, and the regular-ed students couldn't get out of the classroom quick enough once the bell rang to signal the end of advisory. These students, and the teachers that allow this non-interaction on a daily basis, are reducing the level of democracy in the school, and ultimately, in their world: "to eliminate a single person through any form of banishment, no matter how benevolent the logic, reduces the web and makes the community a less democratic and less rich place" (95). If these students with disabilities can't join a regular education classroom, and other students can't even acknowledge their existence in their own classroom, how will they know how much they have to offer the world? If these students with Down syndrome and different mental/physical disabilities are treated as "other" or "lesser" compared to the rest of the student population, nobody gets to benefit from all of the magic and wonder that they have to offer, because every single student has these things to offer. We have to be the change agents, the teachers that advocate for respect of all students, both as "active agents in the learning process and essential members of the learning community."

Reading this article reminded me of a video I saw earlier this year about a magnificent little boy named Owen and his dog Haatchi. Dogs (and other animals) are often used to help treat and educate young children with mental and physical disabilities. Why can't we encourage our students to view the world as these animals do: that all humans are capable and deserving of love, companionship, and happiness? Why can't we, like Dewey, foster the belief that "schools must serve as the sites in which children develop both a sense of commitment to one another and a sense of self-direction leading to the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious?"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Multilingual Melodies

From "Aria" - Richard Rodriguez   & "Teaching Multilingual Children" - Virginia Collier

Language has always been magical to me, enchanting, beautiful. I have always been mesmerized by the way people can take language and manipulate it, carve it, sort it, arrange it, and change it - especially when they have complete understanding and control over the words being used. I suppose that's why I like reading and writing, listening to fairy tales, and I'm pretty sure that's why I have chosen to teach English. It's why I like reading to the boys I babysit, and why I fell in love with Dr. Seuss' magical word play in all of his stories.

I don't really know for certain which language was my first, whether I said "mama" or "mom" (because now I use them interchangeably), or how I learned to determine which language I could use when. What I do know is that I am incredibly lucky that my parents chose to teach me their native language even though they were (and, to some extent, still are) learning the English language. Because I learned Croatian at the same time I learned English as a child, I am completely fluent in both. I am able to talk to my family, visit and stay with them for entire summers, and navigate a country more beautiful than any other I have ever seen. I was able to consider a completely different life if I wanted to, and right now I could be teaching the English language to little Croatian schoolchildren. 

Although I have always understood the power language has to connect people, I have also understood the tall, unbreakable barriers and confusing miscommunications it can create among people. My Croatian grandfather and my Portuguese godfather would carry on entire conversations at our summer cookouts, without speaking a word of the same language. I like to think that they understood one another completely, although I never thought to ask them then. Time after time, my parents used to make me translate school notes that came home, and I still have to type up my father's estimates when he evaluates a potential new job. My mother hated going to birthday parties where parents had to stay, because she was embarrassed at the thought of trying to talk to them in a language that wasn't her own.

Although both my parents now have grown comfortable with and are fluent in English (minor grammar mistakes don't count, I tell them), I still identify with Rodriguez whenever I see them talking with friends and family members in Croatian: "Using Spanish, he was quickly effusive. Especially 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" (37-38). When speaking in their native languages, English language learners are able to manipulate words to create magic, to tell stories, to connect and communicate with others. As teachers, we should be aware of and responsive to this need, this flare that can be lit simply through the ability to communicate. Maybe our quietest students aren't quiet because they have nothing to say; maybe our quietest students are quiet because they don't have the knowledge and control of the language we are making them participate in. 

I found Collier's seven "guidelines" interesting, and agreed with most of them, but not all. The one that most intrigued me, however, was the fifth one, regarding code-switching. I think this is perhaps one of the most important pieces of multilingual education. Reading this, I thought about my family, and how often we code-switch (which happens to be pretty often). I also thought about Richard Rodriguez's family, and how their transitions from Spanish to English might have been different had they not been discouraged from ever using their primary language. Collier quotes Guadalupe Valdes: "Bilingual speakers are aware that each of their languages has certain strengths and that two languages can be used simultaneously to convey the most precise meaning" (230). This article states that bilingual students actually have an advantage, if they are encouraged to utilize both languages throughout their lives. 

Our job as educators shouldn't be to extinguish a non-English speaker's primary language; instead, it should be to help multilingual students create melodies by intertwining both of their languages, in order to help them communicate and understand the beauty and magic of each of them, separate and together. Let's help our students understand that "language is enchanting, powerful, magical, useful, personal, natural, all-important" (Collier 235). Although they might not all fall in love with stories and words, they deserve to be able to use them however they please, in any of the languages they learn. They deserve the right to speak up for the things they believe in and want to change. They deserve the right to use their languages to create an aria, a melody, as beautiful and unique as they each are, and they deserve teachers who will listen. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Buy a dictionary.

Yes. I want this laminated, hanging up in my classroom. 

Also came across this article a couple of days ago: I applaud this parent. How do we send this same message, as teachers, without always explicitly stating "yes, a girl can dress up as a male character on Halloween"....sometimes I feel like it's the unspoken things that we do or don't do that send a stronger message.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Our Words: The Windows and Mirrors of a Safe World

From Safe Spaces: Chapter 5 - Inside the Classroom Walls
Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy

If there is one thing we have reiterated over and over in our discussions and readings, it's the fact that "language is a tool" (95), and conversation is one of the most important pieces of each of our classrooms. Reading this chapter, I was once again reminded of several of our previous readings and discussions. One line in particular really stood out to me: "Apparently, educators would rather omit or veil important themes in Whitman's poetry than broach a topic they consider taboo" (87). Immediately, I thought of Michelle Kenney's "Teaching the N-Word" and her take on taboo topics. Much like the discussion of the N-word and racial inequality, the LGBTQ discussion is one that needs to happen in today's classrooms, perhaps now more than ever before. Maybe one conversation can lead into the next, and we can have talks about many of them together. As Yoruba Richen poignantly states in What the Gay Rights Movement Learned From the Civil Rights Movement, "As these movements continue on, and as freedom struggles around the world continue, let's remember that not only are they interconnected, but they must support and enhance each other for us to be truly victorious." Yes, yes, yes. One thousand and ten percent, yes.

I think about all of the times I've heard the word "gay" thrown around or used to make fun of someone, and then I think about my students' reactions when I stop whatever else is going on in class to address it. Some of my closest friends and greatest role models are gay, and I have never known anyone else's hearts to be bigger. And that's exactly what I tell my students. I tell them that if my best friend was sitting in this classroom, and I let someone use the word "gay" as a derogatory term without asking them to understand why they shouldn't use it that way, he would probably be extremely hurt. I tell them that even though he isn't sitting in this classroom, I would be letting him down if I didn't stop to have this conversation, and that maybe someone else is sitting in here, thinking of somebody that they love who would also be hurt by our senseless use of words. The first time I spoke up in such a way, I was furious, and I was also nervous. I was furious with my students for disappointing me, for hurting the people I loved with their words, but most of all, I was furious with myself for being nervous. I noticed something that day, though, and I have never once been nervous when talking to my students about LGBTQ issues (regardless of how they come up in our conversations) since then. I noticed that my students became much more deliberate and considerate when choosing their words, and I noticed that that deliberation and consideration extended far beyond my classroom, as I overheard certain students' conversations in the hallways after that.

It is not up to the LGBTQ community to create safe spaces for themselves; rather, it is up to all of us to create safe spaces for all students, LGBTQ included. Safe spaces include classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, buses, soccer fields and basketball courts. They don't start there, though. They start in our conversations, in the words we do and don't use, and the ways we explain why we do or don't use them in certain situations. They start by reading Tango Makes Three to elementary students, and by addressing the homosexual themes in Whitman's Leaves of Grass with secondary students. They start by acknowledging that some students have spent their entire lives "denying [themselves] or explaining [themselves]" (88), whether they are part of the LGBTQ community, or have loved ones that are. They start with us. We create the safe spaces, the mirrors and windows in which students see themselves in our classrooms and, essentially, our world. The world we describe or introduce or discuss in our conversation needs to have a space for all students, so that they understand that the real world has a safe space for them too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection on Our Conversation: The Leftovers

Whew! Graduate seminar facilitation - check! What an awesome feeling. As Brian and I mentioned briefly last night, it was incredibly difficult to decide what we wanted to do in class...not only because we were working together (which wasn't really the hard part), but because we each had different ideas, all of which we wanted to include, but knew we wouldn't have the time for.

In response to some of the comments from last night, I guess what we figured was that if we didn't get to all of the different videos and things we wanted to share with you, that would be stuff that we could easily upload to the blogs and share them with you all anyway...whereas the conversation in class couldn't really be reconstructed online. That brings me to two points: 1) We understand the capabilities and limitlessness of our technology and value the connections we can make through that technology, and 2) We also understand the importance of and value face-to-face conversation. For me, that is what our Wednesday nights are all about - the conversation, the discussion, the weeding through theories and pedagogies and articles together, out loud, sometimes rich, sometimes messy and demanding - always fulfilling, enlightening.

I'd like to think that Sherry Turkle would have enjoyed our discussion last night. We didn't bash technology and its implications on our students and classrooms, but discussed the "need to remember - in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts - to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another." These are the moments in which we allow ourselves to be human, have feelings and reactions and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. They allow us to be present in the moment.

While it was nice to read everyone's virtual check-in and tie that into our discussion, there was a level of anxiety I felt, rushing to read everyone's and respond to them, and then read other responses as well. I also felt a strange sort of disconnect from them, and found it hard to remember who had had a sunny day and who was feeling cloudy. I like looking at people when they talk and share things about themselves and their day, I feel like I am making a deeper connection with them, even if we just make eye contact and share a knowing smile. Emotions sometimes carry themselves differently through technology...and sometimes they're hard to pick up on. Words carry different meanings when they are just demonstrated hysterically in this Key & Peele clip...

The one thing I wish we had really had more time to show and discuss was something I think may have enriched our discussion, and tied the two texts together in a unique way. I think we do need to have conversations with our students (and teach them how to have these conversations) about racism, sexism, social injustices, as well as conversations about their day, their opinions, their feelings. I also think that we need to get comfortable with technology in our classrooms, especially as a way to enhance, not our teaching, but student learning. There are so many opportunities for our students to be connected to information, ideas and other students that they might not have had the opportunity to be connected to before. So why are we shying away from this? Wesch argues that "we are all interconnected" and that we should provide for our students the opportunity for an "important and meaningful exploration of the world in which we live and co-create." We have to find a way to use technology with our students, so that we all may learn from it.

In his TED Talk, by posing a unique analogy, Todd Rose asks educators a question that Turkle and Wesch (along with us, too!) would have several cups of coffee over as he discusses flexible learning environments created by technology...."So the question isn't do you want the technology - it's already here, you've already paid for it - the question is, what do you want it to be?" What DO we want technology to be? How will we make it become that? How can we best incorporate it into our daily lives, in order to enhance the conversations and questions our students voice?

Final thoughts: I wonder what would happen if we were to put our technologies away for a couple of days, and can't wait (Jenny, I think you mentioned how excited you were for this, too!) for Brian's day of Social Media Silence. How long could we keep it up? A day? A week? A whole year?! Guess what - someone's done it. Could I do it? Could my students? Should we even want to?

We ended class last night by discussing "magic," those moments in teaching that sometimes happen when we feel the whole universe aligns and we have the best class or "teachable moment" ever. We can't wait for those moments, for the universe to align, for the technology to update, for the opportunity to present itself...we have to plan and prepare for it, we have to make learning happen; we have to make the magic happen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cranky with a Chance of Passing Giggles

So it's been a very "off" day. I just don't feel very loud, bright, cheery...which tends to worry people. I wore new shoes today, which was totally a terrible idea. My feet hurt before second period even started. Thank goodness I'm a mess and keep spare (forgotten) flats in the trunk of my car.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of coverage in different classrooms in my building, and have been having a very tough time accepting certain differences. I wish I had covered the isolation classroom before I wrote my paper, but both days I left school very troubled, and describing it to Josh on Monday night I started sobbing. How can twelve different students walk into a classroom and right past their classmates, who have special needs, without even greeting them or acknowledging their presence? How can they spend twenty minutes of advisory huddled in a corner of the room so far from the kids that are "different?" It's just not fair and I really want to change some things. Can I? Where do I even begin?

I think that's why I've been sort of down the past few days, and my classes have certainly brought giant smiles to my face. We've seen fake teeth, funny masks, and shared giggles that seem to erupt out of nowhere very quickly. I'm hoping tonight perks me up a bit, Wednesday nights usually do.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Here's the link to the Wesch reading! It's actually a PDF you can find right on this website.

Melissa, you set the bar super high for us! Great job :)

Sunday, October 19, 2014


From Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest (1999)
Patrick J. Finn

Finn was a new reading for me, but felt familiar, with bits and pieces of our other readings sprinkled throughout. It was as if I could hear their voices through Finn's work, emphasized even more clearly than they had been before. Combined, these voices can be more powerful than Superman, but we have to be willing to listen, and willing to let our own voices be heard.  

I heard Johnson's voice, prominent throughout, as Finn argued that "the status quo is the status quo because people who have the power to make changes are comfortable with the way things are. It takes energy to make changes, and the energy must come from the people who will benefit from the change" (Finn xi), much like the way Johnson described the rainy climate we live in. How will the cycle best be broken? Do the people who have the power to stop the rain want to stop it? Or will they hand out umbrellas to stay dry? The systems of privilege will only continue to re-create themselves if the Executive Elite schools teach their students that they must remain in control, and if the working-class and middle-class schools teach their students that they will grow up to take orders and become the machines by which those in the upper class will succeed. 

I heard Lisa Delpit's Aspects of the Culture of Power as Finn explained that "all of us - teachers and students - were locked into a system of rules and roles that none of us understood and that did not allow for much in the way of education" (Finn 5). Both would argue that the Affluent Professional schools embrace the "special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds" (Delpit 46) among teachers and students. Because of the culture of power, are odds set for students when they first enter schools in these drastically different systems, as Finn suggests? 

I heard Armstrong and Wildman, urging us to embrace color insight and look for the "me" in each individual student, much like during Finn's experience in an affluent professional school where the principal began staff meetings by saying, "we are here to consider how we can best serve the whole child in each of our students" (Finn 24). I think they would agree that "this recognition enables the construction of bridges between individuals across identity categories and deeper recognition of the role of privilege in all of our lives" (Armstrong & Wildman 73). As educators, we need to be considerate of constructing bridges between all of our students, so that they may know their potential, regardless of their race or social class. We are able to create in our classrooms the kind of learning environment in which all students will learn to question the status quo and want to make the world a more equal playing field for everyone, regardless of their social privileges. 

I heard the persistent voice of Ira Shor, arguing that participation allows education to be something students do, not something done to students, while reading Finn's reflection of his early teaching years and naive pride of the assistant principal's approval of his obedient classroom. "...but I look back on it now with chagrin. It would have been more accurate if he had said, 'so they could see what could be done to our students'" (Finn 5). Education needs to be an active, engaging dialogue, providing for students the opportunity and means to think critically about the world around them, so that they may someday change the world. 

And then there are our voices, voices of transforming intellectuals. Each Sunday on our blogs, every Wednesday in our seminar, day after day in each of our classrooms. We are "self-consciously critical of inequities in our society" (Finn 156). That's why we're here in this cohort together, isn't it? We have formed our own culture circle, much like the one Freire created, but we are here to discuss how to engage our students in their own...."The group's culture is its own. It is created by them. It is engaged in by them. It can be modified by them. They can step back and think about it and how they create it and engage in it." (Finn 165). I thought of us and our powerful, inspiring discussions that take place every week. 

And then I thought about our students, and how their power to change the status quo lies in their literacy abilities. "The literate are powerful," states Finn. We need to teach our students how to read and interpret, not only texts and media, but the world around them. For our students to want to improve the quality of life of all individuals and groups, we need to connect learning to their lives. Like Peterson, Bigelow, and Christensen, we need to create classrooms for "equity and justice," in order to empower all students. Our voices, supported by the voices of Johnson, Delpit, Armstrong, Wildman, Shor, Finn, and so many more transforming intellectuals on the side of democracy and social justice, have the power to make literacy dangerous again. Let's make others listen. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

What is the true role of schools - and where do we fit in?

From Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change - Ira Shor

I think you've all hit the nail on the head in your responses to our reading this week (sorry I'm a little late!)...what amazed me most, however, was not the fact that the themes and pedagogies brought up are ones that we believe in and aspire to create in our classroom every day, but one single statement Shor pulls from Giroux (1988): "Schools need to be defended, as an important public service that educates students to be critical citizens who can think, challenge, take risks, and believe that their actions will make a difference in the larger society"  (16). Wow. How true this rings at a time like this, when it seems like everyone but teachers has something to say about what goes on in our classrooms (or what should go on) - worse yet, instead of defending schools (and teachers), people have started attacking them. What would he and Shor say now?

If we, as teachers, are trying to shift from a traditional curriculum to an empowering pedagogy, why are we being blamed for students' negative outcomes? The students should have more of a say now than ever before in the classes, subjects, concepts, and methods of learning they are a part of. Shor discusses the fact that traditional education causes curiosity, intrigue, and social instincts to wither away, until students become "nonparticipants." As a middle level teacher, I am stunned and saddened by the students who have already lost their love for learning.

If we are to teach kids "to fight for a quality of life in which all human beings benefit" (16), we need to emphasize true student participation and collaboration, along with the list of values Shor recommends for an environment in which empowering pedagogy lives and thrives. This means allowing students a say in what and how they learn...of course. It is our job to "respect and rescue the curiosity of students" (18). We need to rescue their curiosity by allowing them a chance and a reason to change the way the world works. A lot of our discussions have been focused on the culture of power, who holds the rules and codes of the culture of power, and how we can change that by allowing our students the chance to make a difference.

If we are teaching students simply so they can do well on the PARRC (similarly to the way teachers had been teaching students to do well on the NECAP and every other standardized test before), we are not allowing them to make connections with and meaning from their learnings. I think Shor and Silberman would agree that these tests simply reinforce the traditional curriculum that "tilts toward authority rather than to freedom, participation, and mutuality" (18). I am reminded of Brian's last blog post from ReThinking Schools, in which the teacher and her students together created an environment in which all students felt safe, protected, and empowered. I am willing to bet that those students learned more about life, and the ability they have to change or respond to things that are not right, not by taking a test on right and wrong, or Civil Disobedience, for that matter, but by existing in a space where they created rules, norms, and expectations for themselves and one another, and following them even when their classroom teacher was not present. This classroom is a true example of empowering pedagogy. It was not something "done by teachers to students for their own good, but something students [codeveloped] for themselves, led by a critical and democratic teacher" (20)....that exemplified the idea that "when education is a participatory sphere of public life, meaning and purpose are constructed mutually, not imposed from the top down" (22).

These are the classrooms, and those are the students, that will tilt the scales of the culture of power. We are the teachers that need to make this education shift, way too many years after Shor's writing, that will lead to empowering pedagogy becoming the norm. Education needs to be something students DO, not something done to students.

So yes, schools need to be defended as an important public service....and yes, the structure of the classroom needs to change. Teachers matter, now more than ever, not because we hold all of the answers to the test, but because our students are living and will continue to live the test when they leave our classrooms and our schools, and they need guidance on how they will interpret, analyze, and respond to it. School is the place to discuss and practice a participatory environment, so our students may lead and become important members of a society in which all human beings benefit. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Judging America"

Came across this Huffington Post photo series last night about American Stereotypes....take a look when you have a couple of minutes.

See you tonight!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Teaching the N-Word: Can I?

"Teaching the N-Word" - Michelle Kenney
Fall 2014 -- Volume 29 #1, pgs 19-23

As soon as I logged into ReThinking Schools, the first article I saw was the one about using The Hunger Games to teach social class, and I was beyond tempted to just go with it. I kept digging around a little bit (mostly because I feel like I was takingThe Hunger Games in a slightly different direction than Marshall and Rosatti did, but I'm sure we'll come back to that), and came across an article that seems to segue beautifully from our first few discussions. Michelle Kenney, a white, middle-aged language arts teacher in Portland, Oregon, makes a point of having a very important discussion with her students every single year - the "n-word talk." My first thought as I started reading the article was holy brave soul, but as I continued, I realized this is a woman who knows what she's doing. Reading about the sources, methods, and discussion techniques she uses makes me realize even more how necessary this conversation is for each of us to have with our students.

Kenney uses different forms of media (documentary videos, rap songs, talk show clips, news reports) to draw students' attention to how the n-word and its meaning have changed significantly over the years. She then asks them to reflect on this after they have discussed it at length, and to decide how they feel about using the word, along with how they feel about other people using it. What I found most powerful about this was that this white teacher had openly discussed something "taboo" with her students, an issue that they may (or may not) have thought about in depth previously, but one that they had certainly encountered in their diverse community. I wonder what this conversation would look like in my classroom. How it might differ in the classroom at Tolman that I was in last year. How it might differ if I was older, or in a different setting...but then I stop and ask myself, why?

Why should it matter where I am teaching? Do my students not hear the n-word on a daily basis in the music they listen to, the videos they watch, the friends they have? Do my students have to be able to decide whether or not they will use the n-word, and know why or why not? It would certainly be a very different conversation from the one Kenney has each year with her students, and different from the conversations that Emily Bernard has with her university students as a black professor. But it would be a conversation, out loud, in which my students would be asked to analyze and assess the n-word, its history, and its meaning. Don't I owe it to them?

I can't wait to discuss this article and all of yours on Wednesday.

Also, I came across this after our "Take a Step" activity from last class, and was going to share it with you all anyway, but I feel that as I am pondering my responsibility of teaching my students so many things I never thought I would be ready for, this is beyond appropriate, and just may become my new mantra.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Food for Thought

I realize we probably have way more things to discuss tonight than we will have time for, but I think this is huge. Emma Watson gave a speech at the United Nation headquarters in New York over the weekend launching a new campaign, HeforShe. Yes, she's fabulous and yes, I love Harry Potter and yes, I would kill for her British accent. But it's not just that. She's got some important things to say, and her position in our society as a celebrity means that people will listen. She immediately brings to light several misconceptions about feminism (and feminists), and recognizes and addresses the issues that men face within gender inequality as well. Go, Emma.

The gist of the campaign is actually to urge men and boys to become advocates against gender inequality, because it is everybody's issue. "Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one?" She poses the question and immediately I think of our Johnson discussion - we have to start using these words out loud in order to help people understand what they truly mean, so they can stop being uncomfortable and frowned upon. She also says something that I think we can all take with us as part of the duties of the roles we are in as teachers (even if we aren't Harry Potter stars with British accents...), that "having seen what [we've] seen and given the chance, it is [our] responsibility to say something."

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are We There Yet?

Reading Three: Margalynn J. Armstrong & Stephanie M. Wildman – “Colorblindness is the New Racism”

                “Whereas colorblindness urges us not to notice race, color insight says, ‘do not be afraid; notice your race and the race of others around you; racism and privilege still do affect peoples’ lives; learn more about the racial dynamic’” (68). So. Here we are. In a graduate-level course, reading literature about and discussing the issues of privilege and power across many different facets of education. Color insight: that’s what we’ve been discussing without even realizing it. We have begun to “[provide] a vocabulary for teaching across racial lines” by utilizing the “lens with which to examine societal interactions and initiate conversations” in order to achieve a greater goal: racial equality and justice. That’s why we’re all here. So how are we doing?

As I read the four steps required by the process of color insight, I couldn’t help but question: are these steps in order? I think so. And if so, where are we? I am fairly certain that we (in our classrooms, in our schools, in our lives, and in this cohort) do our best to “consider context for any discussion about race.” By noticing the racial composition of the worlds around us that we are active in, we are better able to prepare for conversations in and about those worlds. A conversation about race will be structured very differently in my classroom in Burrillville from the way conversations about race were structured in my classroom in Pawtucket. So, step one – check.

Step two: examining systems of privilege. Yup, I think we’re doing a pretty solid job of that each and every week, through these blog posts, comments, and especially through our class discussions. Guys and girls, I think we can be the ones to help stop the rain. By acknowledging our privileges and power as white, middle-class teachers, I think we are in a prime position to guide all of our students along this journey with us, as we perhaps try to influence those who are in a position of even greater power. To do this effectively, we have to be prepared to have the real conversations about race, using real words. This includes having conversations about the real things that are going on in our world, our country.

 An article I read on NPR further reiterates the importance of THE CONVERSATION we have with our students about things like the Michael Brown case***, because these things are real and frightening and important. Erin Stevenson, a high school teacher from Rhode Island, is quoted in the article, “Ultimately, I care more that my students are informed, engaged, active citizens of the world. If they don't care to pay attention or don't feel it affects them, then I haven't done my job." Exactly! This is the importance of color insight in our daily lives, and the significant of becoming aware of it now that our country has seen some of the most devastating riots surrounding the issues of race in a very long time. We have to have these conversations with our students so that they may understand and learn more about the racial dynamic, and participate in the conversations about what is going on in the world around them.

Steps three and four are the steps I think we have begun to approach this week. Perspectivelessness is a long, complicated word and I am still struggling to grasp its complete meaning, even as I read and reread the section explaining it. Because of color insight, we have begun our conversation about race: now we just have to keep talking, and talking as loud as we can so that those people in control of the rain are forced to stop. 

***Side note: I also read Rios' "Stealing a Bag of Potato Chips and Other Crimes of Resistance" and was immediately struck by the reiterations of our conversations from the past two weeks. The boys in this article, like many of the young boys we encounter on a daily basis, have not been taught from an early age about the rules and the codes of the culture of power. I have strongly mixed feelings and thoughts regarding the issues going on in Ferguson, but this article did provide some insight as to why Michael Brown may have reacted to his situation the way he did. Hoping our discussion on Wednesday helps me understand some of my reactions and emotions to such a complicated situation. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be....An Ethnographer?

Reading Two: Lisa Delpit - "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children"

“No, I am certain that if we are truly to effect societal change, we cannot do so from the bottom up, but we must push and agitate from the top down” (40).  Wait a minute – isn’t that exactly what we discussed in class?! Society will truly change if we make the rain stop, rather than simply hand out more umbrellas. We can't wait for society to change itself, we (those in power) have to work on changing it ourselves. Or something along those lines. Yes! Way to go, team! We knew what Delpit was all about before we even read her article (well, read it again…).

I remember reading this article in FNED 346, with Dr. August. My first education class, and I had no idea what to expect.  I remember thinking, wait – when do I learn how to set up my gradebook, and practice writing on the board? It was in this class that I got my very first peek at the real challenges that would await me in the classroom. It was also in this class that I realized teaching was very different in the kind of schools I grew up attending (white, middle-class) and in the schools that I would someday teach in.  One of the issues Delpit addresses is an issue that is still questioned today: can white teachers effectively teach black students?

Delpit concludes in her article that the greatest dilemma we face as teachers is “in communicating across cultures and in addressing the more fundamental issue of power” (46). As teachers we have a certain power and a certain responsibility to not only teach our students about the rules and “codes” of power, but also how these codes of power interact with their own codes, and why it is important for them to learn about both of them, to know the difference, to know why each is important in its own way. She, much like Johnson, insists on a true discussion with all of the issues in the open, both sides listening, “a very special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds” (46).

 It shouldn’t matter if the classroom contains a white teacher and black students, a black teacher and white students, or any combination at all of teacher and students! What should matter is how teachers and students interact with one another, and how teachers (of any color) listen to the voices of their students and what they have to say. We have to be willing to “put our beliefs on hold” in order to learn what it might feel like to be someone else, and teach our students how to do the same. Not only will we then become ethnographers, but our students will have the ability to as well, and that is where the change will come from. That is how we can stop the rain. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It's Not Our Fault - But It IS Our Problem

Reading One: Allan G. Johnson – “Privilege, Power, and Difference”

 “The truth of this powerful force is everywhere, but we don’t know how to talk about it, and so we act like it’s always somewhere other than here and now in the room with us” (7). It’s interesting that we, as a society, like to talk so much about ourselves while, at the same time, try to draw as much attention away from ourselves as possible. Johnson points out that we don’t like to talk about the issues of privilege and power because we don’t know how to do so; maybe the more frightening truth is that we do know how to do so, but are afraid of what might happen as a result of voicing these issues.

Strangely enough, just this morning, as I was flipping through this month’s Cosmo (another guilty pleasure), I came across this and stopped, a little baffled and a little unsure of how to feel:

Finally, we are talking about white, heterosexual, male power (and using those exact words!), but only to acknowledge that those unearned privileges are what allow white, heterosexual males to remain in power. I think what makes me most confused as to how to feel about this blurb is the word “eventually.” It seems so vague, so faraway, that it’s like a dream that just might come true if we wish for it hard enough. Instead of this (obvious) statement, why isn’t Cosmo telling us how to make that “eventually” come sooner? Who will? More importantly, if this is the kind of thing our students are reading, especially black/homosexual/female students, are they going to expect the cultural change to occur on its own? We need to bring up these issues that Johnson addresses to our students so that we may change society ourselves. Articles like this one from Cosmo take the responsibility away from us; meanwhile Johnson addresses the fact that we cannot be blamed for the problem, but the responsibility to fix it has fallen into our laps.

We need to stop ignoring what research and human experience have revealed “about human beings and how [we] live” (4). By looking at the harsh truths and sad realities of privilege and power and talking about them, perhaps then we might be able to understand them and, more importantly, understand how we can begin to change them.  Johnson disagrees with the “popular assumption that people are naturally afraid of what they don’t know or understand” by pointing out that we, as humans, are all “drawn toward the mystery of what [we] don’t know” (16). If we don’t know, then why are we afraid to make a change and see what might happen? The problem is that we think we know what is going to happen, and for that reason, people with power (as a result of an unearned privilege) think they stand to lose the most, regardless of how much people without power stand to gain.

People in positions of power are not willing to put themselves in a vulnerable position for someone else. What they (and we, as a society) need to be reminded of is that vulnerability is not always negative. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent over ten years studying vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness. We could all stand to gain something from putting ourselves on the line for others. Why can’t we focus more on what connects us and makes us alike, rather than disconnection and what makes us different? Let’s start talking about white, heterosexual, male power so that we can start changing.

It’s 2014, and we cannot afford to wait for someone else to fix our problems for us, our students, and the world that surrounds us. We are in positions of power as educators – let’s use this power to help others talk about, understand, and change the problems of privilege, power, and difference. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day One

Hey, new friends! 

So we've just met and I am already super excited to start this adventure with you all. I've been looking forward to grad school just about forever, so now that it's finally here I feel like there are a million things running through my mind. I graduated from RIC in 2012 - Secondary Education, English. Once I graduated, I knew it was only a matter of time before I went back, and Dr. August recommended ASTL. Since she was my undergrad Honors Project Advisor, I tend to listen to her advice. Although I am still job-hunting, I have come to realize that there is something I love about each grade considered "secondary" - even 9th grade (who would have thought?!). I love learning about teaching, learning, reading and writing, and I completely consider myself a Nerd. This semester, I am also finishing up my MLED certification by taking classes on Saturdays. I am subbing at Burrillville High School, Burrillville Middle School and Tolman High School, and have a part-time job at Memorial Hospital in the ER. 

But that's all business; here comes the fun stuff. My parents are both from Croatia, and I consider myself to be one of the luckiest human beings alive to have such strong ties to such a beautiful place. I used to go every summer when I was younger, and just spent two weeks there this summer with my boyfriend. It was wonderful showing off some of my favorite places, but even more exciting to explore new ones. 


 During my free time, I can be found on the soccer field, lifting super-heavy things at the gym, babysitting fantastically awesome kids, spending time with my family and friends, reading lots of books, or watching Criminal Minds. Pretty soon, my life will be consumed by a new puppy; his name is Tucker, I'm in love, and we get to take him home at the end of September. I can't wait to get to know you all as we take on Grad School together.