Monday, October 19, 2015

Falling Between the Cracks - When Declaring an Identity Does More Harm than Good

While I have read Nakkula and Toshalis before, and contemplated gender in the classroom (and in my research project last year), I feel as if this time around, I am left with more questions. This book does an excellent job of breaking apart the different bits and pieces that make up a person's identity - one of the major components being societal norms and expectations, and what they mean for human beings. "The players are lost to the play itself" (Nakkula 100) seems to be a perfect analysis for what "defining gender" means for adolescents. As humans, we are all in some sense "playing a part," but, for some of us, that "part" comes more naturally than for others. Some of us don't feel the need to modify or break out of the mold that society expects us to fit into, while some can't fathom trying to fit into the mold. So what does this mean for our students? What does it mean that they are trying to define something that might not need to be defined right now? Why can't society allow children and adolescents to "try on" gender, masculinity and femininity, instead of making a definitive choice? What would that even look like/sound like/be like?

Tillett Wright is an activist, speaker, writer, photographer. In her TedxWomen talk "Fifty Shades of Gay" (which I found both captivating and fascinating), Wright brings up her childhood, and the notion that we, immediately upon meeting people, put them into "boxes" because acceptance means there is some sort of bonding going on. She then talks about how these boxes are both limiting and dangerous - and I wonder if our students feel that way when asked to try and define themselves. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on "finding oneself" or "discovering who you are" when instead we should be focused on "try it on" and "see how you feel." Most importantly, Wright talks about the support she had from her parents no matter who or what she decided to wake up and be - she "wasn't asked to define [herself] at any point, just allowed to be." She then felt this weird shift when asked to pick a side - boy or girl, gay or straight. She said she knew deep down that she was none of those things definitively, and because of that, she "fell between the cracks." 

How many of our students are "between the cracks" right now, especially at a time when labeling or defining oneself as "gay" or "transgender" can be seen as a heroic act of courage. What about those students that truly don't know what or who they are, and don't feel like they should have to decide one or the other, but are being asked to do so? I know we have talked about the genderbread person, and the masculinity/femininity spectrum....but why should our students have to pinpoint exactly where they fall? I think our fight needs to be redefined and fully understood in this way: "Gender identity work in our schools is the work of freedom fighting. It is a fight for the freeing of authentic expression, for the full presentation of all our students. It is the fight to help our students be fully present as learners, as classmates, as the people they see themselves to be" (115). 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Windows and Mirrors: Outward Relationships Lead to Internal Identity Development

In the depths of Nakkula and Toshalis's chapters four and five, I found myself remembering why I had groaned a little bit when Julie told me the book we would be using for this class. While I think the stories interwoven with the theoretical explanations of adolescent development really drive certain points home, I also think that there is A LOT packed in here, maybe even too much. It is as if Nakkula and Toshalis are providing us with a synopsis of each educational theorist that has ever had something to say about adolescent development (so, pretty much all of them). Anyway, while I am slightly overwhelmed and having a hard time keeping track of each theorist/theory and how they are all intertwined, there are countless key points that are crucial in attempting to understand the adolescents that walk through our classroom doors every day.

"We come to see and understand ourselves and others - in and through relationships" (94). I have always thought of relationships as both windows and mirrors - they provide us an insight (window) into someone else's world, while allowing us to look inwardly at our own worlds (mirrors). When I think about understanding myself through relationships, I think about the relationships that have forced me to think about what I truly believe, what I think, and what I know. These are not the "easy" relationships. These are not the simple conversations in which we will all agree on everything all of the time. The way our class is set up - a safe place to share our thoughts and disagree with one another, respectfully - is a perfect example of Margaret J. Wheatley's "Willingness to be Disturbed," in which she (much like Duckworth) eloquently states, "what might we see, what might we learn, what might we create together, if we become this kind of listener, one who enjoys the differences and welcomes in disturbance?" What might our students see, what might they learn, what might they create together, if they learn to become listeners who enjoy differences and welcome disturbance, allow themselves to be vulnerable? 

How am I pushing my students to become listeners, thinkers, creators - and how do I emphasize these concepts through their relationships with each other, and they relationships with me? How do I incorporate a space for students to be "disturbed" or put into a state of disequilibrium, in order to enhance their growth and development of identity? These growth-promoting relationships are "characterized by connections in which each person's needs are considered and enhanced, where each person's identity is known and actualized as the self they understand internally" (95).  Slowly, I've been finding a balance between taking the time to get to know them and share a lot of things out loud, but there are also times that I've had the students do some things in small groups that feel a little new, a little different, and a little uncomfortable. There are several students in which I have noticed a slight push from peers will lead to a greater internal push - an adolescent developing understanding of himself through a relationship.