Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Education is Politics: An Agenda for Empowerment"

1. “People are naturally curious. They are born learners. Education can either develop or stifle their inclination to ask why and to learn.”
As babies develop from infanthood to school-aged, they are undergoing a constant quest for knowledge. They explore, ask questions, and desire to learn more and more about the things around then and the concepts they learn about in school. Naturally, the desire to learn decreases overtime, and if teachers do not consistently evoke curiosity in their students, education will appear increasingly less beneficial to them. The educational system described by Shor promotes a want to learn by questioning and critical thinking, but a traditional education based on “unilateral transfer of knowledge” and the “traditional syllabus” emphasizes the work aspect of education, and the authoritarian nature of the teacher. Of course a student is going to resist education if he is forced into the realm of this trite system year after year.

2. “Whose history and literature is taught and whose ignored? Which groups are included and which left out of the reading list of text? From whose point of view is the past and present examined? Which themes are emphasized and which not?”
How many times has the Christopher Columbus story been told from the perspective of the Europeans? Oh, the discovery of America! Oh, the glorious exchange of resources between the Native Americans and the Europeans! Oh, the mass killing, stealing, and raping of the Native Americans by the Europeans! Oops, we don’t discuss that last fact until college…  This quote also relates to the question raised in class about Thanksgiving related activities in schools. I have been taught many times that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated because the Pilgrims were giving thanks to the Native Americans (numerous times misnamed as “Indians”) for helping them settle into their new land. I do believe that students who are in kindergarten or first grade need not hear about the violent truth behind the matter, but they also should not be lied to by continuing this fallacy. These are two examples of how curricula often ignore certain details or skew facts.

3. “For now, I want to suggest that conflicts cannot be prevented and cannot always be negotiated successfully even in a participatory classroom. But a democratic and cooperative process provides the best chance for the constructive resolution of conflict between teachers and students.”
I like that Shor mentions this in his book; it makes this education system seem realistic and plausible because it shows that participatory education has faults, as does traditional education. The fault here, though, is a result of critical thinking and formation of one’s own opinion, which are essential skills in the real world. The faults of the traditional education system are based heavily on imbalances of power, which is an aspect of education and society at large that we try to avoid. Also, as the quote proposes, these conflicts can give rise to meaningful reflection and a second level of opinion formation, during which students help to resolve the conflicts. Therefore, the fault of the arousal of conflicts in student debates is easily fixable, but the fault of year after year of rote memorization leading to a resistance to education is not.

I think one of the major reasons why our class works so well is because it incorporates elements from this model of education. Just as it is based on reciprocity rather than individualism, our activities promote a sense of critical inquiry rather than repetitive work. I cannot speak for everyone, but generally the material appeals to our interests because we are not forced to understand it through examinations, but rather by working with groups of other students and as a whole class. This article reminded me of the mid-term letter. It allowed us a certain amount of power in classroom activities. We were able to state our opinions about all aspects of the course, and guide our professor towards or away from certain activities and changes in requirements, if not for us, for students in the future.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Christopher Kliewer - "Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome"

1. “As Douglas Bilken (1992) has outlined, society itself is hurt when schools act as cultural sorting machines--locations that ‘justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students of groups of students…’”
Ø  I chose to discuss this quote because it instantly reminded me of Carlson. This author is generalizing Carlson’s idea that schools marginalize gay and lesbian students and faculty, to other facets such as “matters of ability, gender, ethnicity and race…” This quote from Bilken is essential to Kliewer’s article because it sets the stage for his idea that the separation of students based on abilities on specific tests that focus on mathematics and language marginalizes students with disabilities. Thus, their development in the learning community and therefore society at large is substantially reduced.

2. “Vygotsky found that the culture of segregation surround people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities… altering the culture of disability requires that a child be recognized as an active learner, a thinker, and a problem-solver, but this cannot occur apart from relationships that allow for such engagement.”
Ø  Vygotsky’s idea is fairly simple to understand here; it pretty much boils down to the fact that if we separate students with disabilities from “normal” students, we strip them of opportunities that “normal” students are given, and thus contribute to the developmental impairment of the disability. Essentially, “normal” students are rewarded for being “normal” and students with disabilities are being punished by means of a less enriched education. The opposite would be true if we provide these enrichment opportunities to students with disabilities; the underdevelopment would be reversed.

“John’s dramatic shift in persona is an example of altered social place—from a location of hopelessness to one filled with possibility (Bogdan & Taylor, 1989). Both his social network and role within the web of relationships from which community is formed were fundamentally transformed on his move to Mendocino.”
Ø  I found the stories of Mia, Isaac, John, Christine, April, and Lee to be inspiring. However, this quote struck me the most. This is a real-life example of Vygotsky’s idea in action. In a segregated environment, John was clearly not developing at the rate of others his age. However, moving to a new community where he was given opportunities to succeed promoted his intellectual and social development, to an astounding extent.

This article was slightly more difficult to read compared to the previous articles, because of the more sophisticated language that Kliewer uses. The theories presented by were interesting and they made me analyze my feelings towards special education classes and the segregation that results. I am not convinced that special education classes should be removed; I know at my high school, students with moderate to severe disabilities were ridiculed behind their backs, to some extent. However, we tend to strip specially educated students of their opportunities to take part in enriching activities, and treat them as if their disorders do not allow for higher-order thinking. Clearly, the students in this article were capable of much more than the standard school curricula. What I believe we should do is improve special education classes and reevaluate policies regarding involvement of students with disabilities in critical-thinking activities.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Promising Practices

I had been looking forward to attending the Promising Practices conference because the workshops I chose sounded interesting to me. Also, after seeing that video in class of Dr. Tricia Rose making a speech, I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say at the conference. The only aspect of the conference I was not crazy about was the early starting time. After I signed in at Donovan, I sat down with a couple of friends and met up with a few people from this class. After chatting for a few minutes, we separated and went to our respective workshops.
                The workshop I chose for session one was called “Student Teaching in Diverse High School Classrooms: Tales from the Field.” I chose this session because I wanted to learn more about the student teaching process and how it worked, and hear about the experiences of the presenters. Student teaching is not an easy task for any prospective teacher, so I wanted to find out about what worked and what didn’t in the presenters’ situations. As I had anticipated, this session was plentifully informative and interesting. The Curriculum Resource Fair was not as interesting as I had anticipated. I went around to each table and looked at the various textbooks and other materials that each group brought, but nothing in particular caught my attention. The workshop I chose for session two was called “ALLIED: Across our Differences.” I wanted to hear stories from people from the various underrepresented groups at RIC, and about how their experiences have affected their learning in some way. This is exactly what I experienced at the session, along with new ways of looking at the word “ally.” Instead of thinking of ally in terms of one who is just sympathetic or friendly, I see an ally as one who will take action, and have someone’s back in a difficult situation. This is now Mirriam-Webster defines ally (see the noun definition) as one who is associated as a helper. This definition does not convey the power I now associate with being an ally for someone. While it does entail helping, it is much more than that. I can help someone by listening, but an ally will help someone by listening and DOING something about it. Dr. Tricia Rose’s keynote speech kept me interested throughout its entirety, and her solutions for discussing difficult topics in the classroom were enlightening. I believe she is a terrific speaker with an unmatched ability to intertwine serious discussion with humor. I especially enjoyed the “gay computer” story.
                I would like to explain in more detail the first session about student teaching. The first session began with introductions from each of the presenters as to where they student taught and at what grade level. After that, they allowed attendees to ask questions, to which each presenter provided his or her own unique answer. The major topics covered by the session were relationship with cooperating teacher, lesson planning, observation, examinations, and classroom management. The presenters asked us to ask questions about any concerns we had, or about particular aspects of student teaching that made us nervous. I realized I was most nervous about discipline and lesson planning, which were covered by the presenters.
One of the presenters recommended meeting with your cooperating teacher before the experience, in order to find out what he or she expects from you. This for me was a Delpit moment because I realized the purpose of meeting with your cooperating teacher would be to learn the rules and codes of power in his or her classroom. By meeting with the cooperating teacher, you would be learning what your role is in relation to his or her role, how much power you have, and how much power the children are generally given. Since consistency is important, transitioning from the cooperating teacher’s method of teaching and your personal method will be easier if you follow the rules and codes of power already established by the cooperating teacher.
                One particular student asked about gayness in the classroom, particular if a student teacher should intervene if a student calls another a “fag” or anything related. "Ah", I thought to myself, "A Carlson moment." All of the presenters answered his question with a yes. The general belief was that if you do not make the student aware of his or her disrespect for the student being harassed, that student will know that he or she cannot trust you to have his or her back. Carlson would say that the student who was harassed would feel “abnormal” after the incident, but if a teacher were to take action, the student would remain within the “normal” community of the school. The article I posted above shows how schools continue to view homosexuality as an abnormal part of society. Therefore, any instance where negative homosexual remarks are made should not be tolerated, in hopes that some comfort can be given to gay and lesbian students, as well as faculty.

In addition to these relationships to the authors we have read, I learned various tips for successful student teaching. Relating to this class, one presenter mentioned that even in high school, a teacher can “start over” if a class starts to spiral downward, and that most students will be receptive. Overall, I learned about the technical facets of student teaching such as how often you are observed and your responsibilities in terms of planning lessons and giving quizzes and tests, as well as other information such as discipline tricks that work and don’t work. Something that calmed me down was that each of the presenters made it clear that when cooperating teachers criticize you, it is pure criticism, not punishment or attack. They reminded us that the cooperating teachers are not scolding you or holding grudges against you based on your performance in the classroom. Rather, they are providing feedback—which may be harsh—to help you become a more effective teacher.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jean Anyon - "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work"

1. “It will be suggested that there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ in schoolwork that has profound implications for the theory – and consequence – of everyday activity in education….”
Anyon’s idea of a hidden curriculum is the central theme of this article. By hidden curriculum, Anyon means to say that the way in which lessons are conducted, and the assignments that students are given, affect how the students are educated. For example, it is clear after reading the article that the students in affluent professional schools and executive elite schools receive the most meaningful education. The reason for this is because the students in these schools have more control over their learning and must think critically, rather than copy what a textbook or teacher tells them. The ideas of individual creativity, discovery, and analysis are not present in the working-class or middle-class schools.

2. “The project is chosen and assigned by the teacher from a box of 3-by-5-inch cards. On the card the teacher has written he question to be answered, the books to use, and how much to write. Explaining the cards to the observer, the teacher said, ‘It tells them exactly what to do, or they couldn’t do it.’”
This quote highlights the contrast between teacher attitudes at the different types of schools. Here, this teacher from a working-class school underestimates the abilities of her students by giving them a step-wise procedure to follow without room for students to add their own individuality to the project. After reading quotes from teachers at the other schools, it is obvious that the other three types of schools, most especially the affluent professional and executive elite, value much more than student memorization and ability to follow procedures. At working-class schools, as demonstrated by this quote, teachers exist predominately to give students information.  At the other schools, teachers empower rather than simply give; they serve as a gateway for student creativity and development of personal opinions.

3. “Differing curricular, pedagogical, and pupil evaluation practices emphasize different cognitive and behavioral skills in each social setting and thus contribute to the development in the children of certain potential relationships to physical and symbolic capital, to authority and to the process of work.”
What Anyon is saying here is that the way in which children are educated will affect more than their success in school. This quote is a little confusing to me, but I think I’ve grasped the general idea of what Anyon has concluded about the research presented in this article. Different methods by which children are educated and evaluated will affect several factors including how they process information, how they behave, and how they respond to authority.

Throughout this course, we have emphasized how race, gender, and sexual orientation affect education. However, this is the first time we have analyzed how economic status relates to curriculum and pedagogical methods. This article was interesting to me, and fairly easy to understand except for some of the statements made at the end after the research findings were described. There were a few obvious patterns: creativity, individual expression, and analysis of information increased with each step up the economic ladder. The schools I attended appeared to fit into the affluent professional category. In general, writing, creative projects, analysis, and development of opinions were valued over rote memorization and incessant copying. The description of the working-class school in Anyon’s article was saddening because the students are being treated as if their only capability is copying notes. They are taught by memorizing facts and experience “creative projects” by following precise instructions.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gender and Education

This news report explains an eighth-grade math teacher’s project for her master’s degree, for which she separates her classes into all girls and all boys. She utilizes different teaching tactics in each class, emphasizing group cooperation in the girls’ class and competition in the boys’ class. Overall, she speaks both positively and negatively of the results. This report also broadens to discuss the general topic of gender separation in classrooms and the controversies that arise.

Here is a similar situation from the same news station. Interviews for this report were done while this high school prepared for separation of English classes into boys’ and girls’ as part of an effort to improve boys’ test scores in English, language arts, and social studies.

This short story from a book called Failing at Fairness was eye-opening to me. It was used as part of a student publication at Stanford University called GREAT: Gender Relations in Educational Applications of Technology.

Here is a link to a particular publication of GREAT. I found it to be helpful in understanding where schools play a role in gender inequality.

This is a summary of a report done in 2005 by the National Center for Education Statistics titled Trends in Educational Equity for Girls and Women. The report itself is 116 pages, but this summary provides some quick facts about the status of gender inequality in classrooms as of 2005. Just click on the links along the left side of the page, and the facts are highlighted on each page.

After viewing these videos and reading the material on these web pages, I’ve learned that gender inequality in schools still exists, despite Title IX. In fact, No Child Left Behind has allowed us to go backwards by legalizing the segregation of classes based on gender.

Gender inequality in classrooms continues to cause controversies and leads to studies and experiments, such as separating classes by gender and examining student performance. Test-based assessment shows that females do better in social studies and language arts, while males do better in math and science. This is known to be caused by physical in brain anatomy between males and females. I think it is plausible and beneficial to strengthen language arts abilities in boys and math/science abilities in girls, but I don’t think that separating classes by gender is the way to do so. In the real world, males and females must work together. Also, separating males and females into separate classes opposes the goal of proving that males and females are equal in terms of capabilities.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brown vs. Board of Education / Tim Wise

I think that people who say racism no longer exists in American are confusing “racism” with “segregation.” Although segregation of blacks and whites in American has ceased due to several momentous events, racism is still very much present, as Tim Wise explains in his interview regarding his book Between Barack and a Hard Place.

Wise details racism by dividing it into two categories: Racism 1.0 and Racism 2.0. The former is the type of racism most easily recognizable by individuals, where there are absolutely no exceptions and all people of color fit into one category with a set of negative stereotypes, and should be treated as such. The latter is more modern and leads to the belief that racism is no longer an issue in America. Under 2.0, certain people of color, like Obama, are viewed as exceptions to the rule, rendering the false appearance that people of color are treated equally. However, this is extremely selective equality.

The relationship between Brown vs. Board of Education is (along with other events pertaining to the advancement of people of color) according to Wise is that while these events were and are important accomplishments, they by no means represent an end to the fight against racism; they are individual battles that have been won but the fight still remains. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer - "In The Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning"

1.       “As is commonly the case with new policy initiatives, however, more attention has been focused on moving forward than on asking where we are headed.”
This is an important quote in the article because it clarifies the article’s main point. Often, policies are implemented without the extensive planning that they deserve. An example of this in my grade school district was the Digital Graduation Portfolio. Several times throughout the year, this new graduation requirement was altered because it was not properly planned. Developmental changes for the advancement of a new project are one thing, but frequent unorganized changes are another. Also, no administrator or teacher was able to answer the questions “What is the point of this portfolio?” and “What goal does it attempt to achieve?” This was another indication that it was implemented quickly without planning. Similarly, Kahne and Westheimer write about service learning and how rapidly it is entering our education system without a well-developed, effective service learning strategy.

2.       “In Atlanta students simply write a 500-word essay describing their experiences. They never discuss their experiences as part of a course. In fact, many of the major legislative proposals have a minimal reflection component – sometimes for fear that such an orientation would diminish the focus on altruism.”
Christensen would not like this. With these policies, while the students are taking action by volunteering in their community, they are not analyzing or reflecting on their experiences in a meaningful way. Performing an action and writing about it does not reveal the extent of what the student has learned from the project. Meaningful reflection, such as class discussions, enables the power of one’s learning to be shown.  Learning should not stop with the project; it should continue with the reflection. Therefore, meaningful reflection allows for a greater degree of learning than writing an essay (which is frustrating to many students). The reflecting process can make or break a project, and in the case of being forced to write about it, will most likely break it.  

3.       “ ‘In the service of what?’ is a question that inevitably merits the attention of teachers, policy makers, and academicians who take seriously the idea that learning and service reinforce each other and should come together in America’s schools.”
Kahne and Westheimer are not arguing for or against one particular strategy of service learning. Their purpose for writing this article was to emphasize the importance of answering the question “In the service of what?” If we continue to advocate for service learning without answering this question, we could potentially end up with inconsequential strategies for incorporating service learning into the curriculum. Mr. Johnson’s project, for example, yielded a few unsuccessful results, which the two authors mention in this piece. The “So what?” of Kahn and Westheimer’s argument is that those in favor of service learning should come to a realization as to what the most effective service learning method is before implementing it.

This article was confusing to me at first because I was not able to fully distinguish between the “charity” and “change” types of service learning. However, after rereading a few parts, I believe I have developed and understanding. My view is that service learning, if done with a balance of charity and meaningful reflection, could teach students important values and help them change their views, in a positive way, of the people for whom they are providing service. In the article, Kahne and Westheimer describe a music class that went to a school in an area of poverty to perform for the students. The students were Johnsonizing about the school in the poor neighborhood; they feared what they thought they knew about the students who went there. This reminded me of VIPS because I feared going to my Providence school, but for the most part, the rumors I had heard about urban schools were untrue. Anyway, the students in the music class performed a service and learned from it. The initial learning was done at the school in the poor neighborhood, although it continued while they discussed their experience in class. If students are forced to perform community service without meaningful reflection, they are completing the service portion of service learning, but only partially completing the learning portion.