Monday, April 28, 2014

Social Justice Event: Anna Cano Morales

Well it’s the last week of the semester and I realized I still haven’t done my even reflection post from March…so here it is! J

For my Social Justice event, I attended a lecture on campus by Ana Cano Morales, an advocate for Latino youth that spoke in March for the Dialogue on Diversity. Even though we were discussing the readings by Rodriguez and Collier around the time of her lecture, I still found many parts of her presentation to be surprising, and made a lot of connections to our discussions in class.
Morales began by telling the story of her experiences as a young Latina girl in school, and how it was for her to grow up as part of the minority community and how it impacted her education. Her story is not the only one, however. The number of Latino youth struggling to do well in school is rapidly increasing. To show this, Morales transitioned into a presentation of statistics to help us get an idea about where Latinos stand in our community economically and demographically:

·         In Rhode Island, the population grew about 53% just last year, making it the fastest growing population in the area. However, these people suffer from an ELL (English Language Learner) Crisis, which means that ELL students are falling drastically behind in core subjects

·          There is a significant achievement gap between white English-speaking students and ELL students. An average about 2 – 2.5 grade levels lower than white students in reading and math

·         While the language barrier appears to be the main gap between these ethnic groups, but there are actually many more issues that cause more trouble than just language differences:

o    The majority of Latino families struggle economically, and many have trouble maintaining a safe home environment and sending their children to school regularly, which drastically affects their education.

o   Latinos are also vastly underrepresented in administrative and professional positions, making it difficult for youth to imagine successful futures for themselves.  

o   The high level of first generation Latino students in schools makes it difficult for children to learn English, since it is new to their family.

While listening to her speak, the readings from Rodriguez and Collier immediately came to mind. Morales’ story and statistics revealed many of the same issues that came up in these two articles about educating bilingual children. She said in her lecture that in order for Latino students to be fully successful in school, teachers must be proficient or almost in fluent in world languages. This way, they are able to respect the home culture of the students and incorporate their first language into the classroom, like Collier talks about. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their home culture like Rodriguez was forced to in order for them to succeed in school.

                I was also able to connect this event to Christensen, who talks about imagining possibilities for children in the media. She argues that if children cannot see themselves as successful in the media, they will not be able to imagine those possibilities for themselves in their careers. While Morales didn’t specifically discuss the influence of the media, she did talk about the lack of Latinos in positions of power, like teachers and administrators. This makes it very difficult for children who come from these backgrounds to imagine themselves as successful leaders in society and will be less motivated to do well in school.

While we didn’t read this article until after I attended the event, I am now also finding connections in Morales’ lecture to Kahne and Westheimer, since she spent the second part of her lecture talking about what can be done to fix the problem. She gave solutions like establishing community housing, creating social services, and starting school earlier with Latino students that will make drastic improvements for their education. These steps are not charity actions, but actions in the system that Kahne and Westheimer would call permanent, effective changes that make lasting improvements in society.

I enjoyed listening to Ms. Morales speak about these issues, and found it helpful to my learning in this class. The information that she presented made me even more aware of the problems that exist and gave me ideas as to how to help fix them. I was going to take French as my second language here at RIC,  but now after listening to her speak, I think I might learn Spanish instead, so I can be of more help to the large percentage of Spanish-speaking students in schools.
 ¡Gracias! J

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Shor: Empowering Education


Reading “Empowering Education: Education as Politics” by Ira Shor this week was pretty much a review of the entire semester. The chapter had so many ideas that we’ve talked about in this class that as I read, I could hear snippets of ideas from our class discussions and from other authors about how schools should work and how education should be. I decided to use this last post to connect it all together and reflect on the class in general.

Shor’s main argument in this chapter is that school is primarily a social experience for children. He uses the term “socialization,” which he explains by quoting Piaget: “to educate is to adopt the child to an adult social environment…the child is called upon to receive from outside the already perfected products of adult knowledge and morality” (12). This means that when children go to school, while they might be there to learn about math or history, they are actually learning the most about society and how they are each meant to functions in our world. The current methods of teaching in American schools are making students less and less curious about the world. Kids are also constantly being reminded about the status quo, since their learning does not prepare them to be successful critical thinkers of leaders; they are taught to submit to authority and work under someone else, causing a huge lack of motivation for them to work hard and learn in school. It’s not what they learn, but how they learn it that affects whether they can submit to or challenge the culture of power. In Shor’s words, “Curriculum is one place where dominant culture can either be supported or challenged, depending on the way knowledge is presented and studied” (33).

Looking at what Shor has to say, I’m able to pick out the themes from the other reading’s we’ve done. I noticed a huge connection to Finn in most of the article. Shor talks about how education is only effective if the lessons build thinking skills and creativity and relate to real life. Finn talks about this concept in “Literacy With and Attitude,” telling us how differences in schooling between social classes limits many students because only the children from elite families gain critical thinking skills through actively participating in their education. They learn real life skills, while the poor students get lectures learn how to memorize facts and submit to authority. I also saw a bit of Delpit, who argues that students always need to be taught the culture of power in order to understand and function within it. Shor also uses this idea, which he calls the “central bank of knowledge,” which according to him is society’s rules and facts exclusive to those in power. He even states that in order to help all students understand, teachers must “use students’ thought and speech as the base for developing critical understanding” (33-34). Ideas from Collier and Rodriguez made appearances here too, since they both argue that students’ first languages and cultures but be honored and used to the classroom to help them learn.  I was also able to connect to Kahne and Westheimer in this chapter.  Overall, Shor proves that we need a system that empowers the student rather than the teacher, and doesn’t enforce the status quo and stereotypes in society. He has learned through experience that the system everywhere needs to change.
Kahne and Westheimer also argue that we need to change our society’s system in order to make a difference in the future.
I thought that the Shor chapter really wrapped up the semester nicely. Because of everything that we’ve read and talked about this semester, I read the article feeling like I already knew about most of these issues. The chapter took so many of the themes from our class and pieced them all together into one main idea that the system has to change. To do this, teachers need to be taught how to empower their students. Now that we’re all aware of these issues in schools, as teachers, we will be able to help make that change in our schools and our society as a whole.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Our Culture of Segregation: Kliewer Response

Quote Post

Christopher Kliewer’s “Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome” uses a pretty big vocabulary, especially in the beginning of the chapter. But as I made it through the rest and read all the fascinating stories about a teacher and different children’s experiences with schooling and disabilities, I found a few quotes that really struck me, so I decided I’d make this another quote post. J
"The framework of utilitarianism maintains that democracy exists as a bureaucratic arrangement apart from the general population and is charged with the "protection [of individuals] from external threat and provision of the conditions for personal aggrandizement" (Soltis,1993, P:151).Those who appear not to make use of these conditions (supposedly open to all), or who appear to lack the potential to accrue privileges, are systematically devalued as less than full citizens -charged as they are with having the differences that matter (72).”

At first, all I could say was “…Translation, please?” This is some intelligent writing, but it’s hard to understand that unless I simplify it a little first. What Kliewer is saying here is that our society revolves around the usefulness and abilities of individuals. The basic idea of this is that democracy exists as a separate governing system apart from the general public, and its job is to protect individuals from outside threats and provide people with opportunities to better themselves. Those who don’t take advantage of these opportunities (which are supposedly open to everyone) or who appear to lack the potential to gain privileges are devalued in our society and seen as less than citizens because of their differences.
This goes back to the idea of SCWAAMP from the beginning of the semester, particularly the idea that society values the able-bodied and able-minded. Anyone considered not “normal” by those standards isn’t valued as a citizen simply because they are different and denied help.

“Why do the higher functions fail to develop in an abnormal child? Not because the defect directly impedes them or makes their appearance impossible…The underdevelopment of the higher functions is a secondary structure on top of the defect. Underdevelopment springs from what we might call the isolation of an abnormal child from his collective (83).”

This part jumped out at me for a couple reasons. First, I was surprised to learn that children with mental disabilities are able to get to the same level as children without disabilities just by integrating them with their peers. I guess I had held the general misconception that all disabled children are unable to learn, so this opened my eyes to the reality that they can learn and gain skills like any other child. This also connected in my mind to the articles we read last week by Oakes and Finn about how separating schools by ability actually does more harm and causes the so-called “less-able” students to fall further behind in their education. By separating the students with disabilities, the schools actually limit their education even more. This is the real cause of the skill gap for students with disabilities. If only schools would integrate them into classrooms with the rest of their peers, they would learn so much more. Not only that, but as Kliewer’s research revealed, if the other students could see how these children’s minds work, they would also be able to gain new skills and ways of thinking, like how Isaac taught his peers to “dance to a book”. It works both ways.
“I have Down syndrome, but I am not handicapped” (93).
This statement that Kliewer included from a student with Down syndrome was so inspiring. In just a few words, this student, Christine, separates the ideas of a mental/physical condition and the ability to learn. She may have been born differently than most others, but that does not mean she is any less capable of learning or anything else.
I came across this video of another student with Down syndrome that speaks about her abilities. It’s a pretty eye-opening speech, and it’s spot-on with Kliewer’s argument. I'll let this inspirational girl take it from here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Literacy with an Attitude


The excerpts from Patrick Finn’s book, Literacy with an Attitude, were a bit of a challenge to read this week – not just because of the huge amount of information we’re given at once, but because Finn covers so much information about literacy in American schools, it was difficult to sort through it all to find his main argument.
In some ways, I think Finn’s argument is a combination of the arguments of a few other authors that we’ve read this year. When I started reading, I found strong connections to other articles pretty quickly. I first noticed a connection to Lisa Delpit’s work beginning on the second page, and her themes echo throughout the rest of the excerpt. The quote that caught my eye was in the preface:
 “The discourse (ways of communication and the beliefs, attitudes, values, habits, and behaviors that underlie them – especially attitudes related to authority, conformity, and power) of working class communities is at odds with the discourse of the schools. This makes acquisition of school discourse and powerful literacy difficult for working-class children.”
This immediately made me think of Delpit and her argument about the rules and codes of the culture of power. In her argument, she states that the reason that some students (particularly students of color) don’t learn or perform well in school is that they don’t understand the language – or “discourse” and Finn words it – of the culture of power. Since these children cannot communicate with the culture of power, they cannot be successful within it. Not just in school, but in society. This theme pops up many times in Finn’s work when he discusses literacy – if lower-class students cannot learn to be successful on their own in school, they cannot learn to be successful in society or in the workforce.

I also began to notice similar themes from the Brown vs. Board of Education readings come up here. In his preface, Finn explains that literacy and education for the working class is considered “dangerous” by the affluent, literate elite:

“The fear was that literacy would make the rabble aware of the injustice they suffered, and they would attempt to overthrow the ruling class violently and take its place.” The same is true regarding racial segregation of schools, like we read about in the Brown vs. Board case. Schools weren’t just segregated because of uneasiness toward race, but also because of an ulterior motive: the U.S. elite wanted to keep African Americans in a second-class citizenship. If they weren’t educated as well as white Americans, then they would be forced to become working-class adults. This is also true in Finn’s argument. He spends a lot of time showing how education affects the outcome of one’s life as an adult. If you are educated to be ignorant and lower-class, then that’s the kind of adult you will become. As Finn explains, “these children were developing a relationship to the economy, authority, and work that is appropriate preparation for wage labor”(12). The same (well, I guess the opposite) goes for upper-class students: “The executive elite children? They were learning to be masters of the universe” (26).

Lastly, I saw many connections to the Kahne and Westhiemier piece, “In the Service of What?” in this excerpt. As I read through Chapter 13 of Literacy with and Attitude, I noticed the idea of change in service learning come back into the picture. Finn talks about Paulo Freire and his work in educating poor adults with literacy campaigns. Reading about his work, I noticed similar ideas from Kahne and Westheimer’s argument about charity vs. change and the discussion we had in class. Freire was working toward a world where the culture gap between the rich and poor would close “not only in terms of wealth and income but in terms of quality of life.” Raising money for the poor communities alone would not fix the problem of illiteracy that these communities face. But as Finn explains,Freire’s vision was one of class struggle. It was about empowering the powerless as a class so they can stand up for themselves. This is what made him a transforming intellectual” (172). If Kahne and Westheimer were to look at this situation, I think they would definitely call Freire’s work a change rather than a charity.

Putting all of these arguments together, I think each one is a piece of Finn’s overall argument, which includes the ideas of the culture of power, economic inequality, and change that can be made to fix the system. This quote from Finn sums it up pretty nicely: “I’d like to hope that a child’s expectations are not determined on the day she or he enters kindergarten, but it would be foolish to entertain such a hope unless there are some drastic changes to be made” (25).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

“Changing laws does not always change minds”


This week’s reading involved a LOT of information regarding race and the Brown vs. Board of Education dispute from a few different sources. I wish I had the time to go through every point in each source, but unfortunately I don’t, so I’m going to focus on a few points that had strong connections to other articles that we’ve read in class.

While reading through the website on the history of the Brown vs. Board of Education, not only did I learn much more detail about the court case than I had learned before, but I also found many places where themes from other authors came into play. Obviously, the case revolves around race and society, so I found many connections to articles that focused on problems dealing with race in society, but I connected it mostly to Peggy McIntosh’s piece on White Privilege. A sentence that stuck out to me on the website in the section about educated students was “Segregated education was designed to confine these children to a subservient role in society and second-class citizenship.” 
When I read this, it shaped the way that I began thinking about the rest of the case:  whether white Americans realize it or not, the main reason that they oppose integration in schools is because of their dominance in society: white privilege. Including African American children into the all-white schools would mean that they would have a chance at surpassing whites in supremacy, so they opposed it in order to keep black Americans in a second-class status in society. This reminded me of a quote that I mentioned in a previous post from McIntosh: “Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.” Throughout the Brown vs. Board of Education case, whites constantly deny that this dominance exists by stating that the schools, while separate, are still equal and provide equal opportunity. This statement is 100% false, yet they still continued to use it to support their argument and their white privilege.

The video interviews with Tim Wise also made me think about other articles that we’ve read in class, particularly Allan Johnson’s “Privilege, Power, and Difference” as well as McIntosh on white privilege. When Wise talks about Obama’s presidency and racism, he brings up many issues that these two authors discuss in their articles. Something that stood out to me was the concept of “Racism 2.0” as Wise describes it: the idea of “enlightened exceptionalism,” or that President Obama, even though he is a person of color, he transcends the racial stereotype because he is an outstanding individual. Our society has a very strong double standard for people of color. As Wise states, ““I don’t think we want to have a society where in order to be a successful person of color, you have to bring it the way Obama brings it, ‘cause we all know that there’s never been an acceptable limiting archetype for acceptable whiteness.” Basically, if you are not white, you must be absolutely exceptional in order to be considered successful, while whites are allowed room for mediocrity.

This discussion reminded me of Allan Johnson, specifically his list of white privilege versus the challenges that people of color deal with: in particular, “It is easier for a ‘good, but not great’ white player [athlete] to make a professional team than it is for a similar black; “whites are more likely than comparable blacks to…be given poor information or the runaround during the application process”; and “whites can succeed without other people’s being surprised.” This is similar to what Wise talks about when he says that Obama and other successful black Americans are only those who rise above the standard of excellence for whites and then some. This comes into play in the issue of integrating schools, because whites tend to see African Americans as less intelligent or less skilled unless they can prove themselves as outstanding. Since they are seen this way, whites argued in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that black students could not compete with white students; therefore, integrating schools would make it unfair to them. 

Lastly, the article on segregation by Bob Herbert discusses the problems in education that stem from schools with high poverty rates. Since most of these schools are the majority black and Hispanic students, they are still considered to be segregated. He argues that students perform much better when moved to affluent schools with middle and upper-class peers. He also says that “The election of Barack Obama has not made true integration any more palatable to millions of Americans.” While Herbert doesn’t mention it directly, this concept made me wonder about Lisa Delpit’s idea of the culture of power in a classroom. The Brown vs. Board of Education website mentions that the schools for black children upheld the cultural values of African Americans. So, if black children go to school in an environment where that culture is valued and dominant, shouldn’t it help the education of those children? The same question popped into my mind here. I’m wondering how this culture influences these schools. But even so, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t integrate our schools – all children deserve an equal education.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In the Service of What? - Extended Comments

This week’s reading was about service learning, a project that we’re required to do for this class. While I was reading In the Service of What? by Kahne and Westheimer, I found it inspiring to learn how widely spread service learning is in our educational systems in America. Keeping this in mind, I became curious about how everyone else’s service learning projects are going, what other kinds of these projects exist, and what everyone was learning from the various experiences.  I read everyone’s blogs to see if anyone answered my questions, and I thought that Jaclyn’s Blog had a really thoughtful post this week!
What I really liked about her post is when she talks about the concept of “diminishing otherness”; when you think of people as “others” and different instead of someone similar to you.  Jaclyn talks about her experiences in two different service learning cases: a time when she donated canned goods to a homeless shelter, and her current project, tutoring for FNED. She talks about her experiences with both, and the differences and similarities between the two.  She explains that when doing community projects in middle school and high school, she didn’t feel a connection to the project, and just thought of it as “something nice that the school did.” But while teaching kids this semester, there’s something more to it than just a good deed. She really feels connected to the kids she is helping and feels accomplished. After thinking about it in relation to the article, Jaclyn comes to the conclusion that it’s the diminishing otherness that creates the difference between the two experiences for her. When she doesn’t work directly with the people she helps, she doesn’t establish a connection with them and doesn’t feel that that she is learning anything about her community other than how to donate cans. But in her service learning for FNED, she is able to connect with the children she works with and, in turn, learns about the world and moves past the “otherness” that divides her from the rest of society. She says in her post, Maybe that's why I feel my service learning project is different this time. Yes, actually I believe it is. I am finally looking past the “otherness” and have full faith in these students”.

I thought Jaclyn’s take on the concept of service learning was really interesting, and it made me think about my own experiences with volunteering and my own concept of otherness and what it means to serve the community. Jaclyn mentioned the scenario in the article about the middle class students volunteering in a poor neighborhood, who were surprised to discover that the people there were welcoming and friendly. Reading about her experience, I found that mine were similar because I also experienced the effects of otherness in my project. Providence is often stigmatized as a “bad neighborhood,” where many families are poor, giving most people the impression that crime rate is high. There is also a fear that stems from race, and I was fed these fears from society before I began volunteering, and had the misconception that I would be unsafe. Now in my service learning project, I am seeing that the students I work with aren’t at all like the negative stereotype. They are all very smart and friendly, and I love working with them each week. It was only this “otherness” that gave me false expectations, and I only proved them wrong through experience.

What I loved most about Jaclyn’s post was the quote she included from the article: “Maybe this [community service] is what citizenship is all about, acting in a decent way towards people who live where we live”(8). I think this does a fantastic job of summing everything up into something we can all take away from service learning. By serving our community, we have the opportunity to learn from the people we meet, learn to respect them, and overall, become a better citizen.

Thanks Jaclyn for an awesome post! J

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us"


This week’s reading, “Unlearning the Myths the Bind Us” by Linda Christensen got me really interested – on the mention of “Disney” I was instantly hooked. Being a huge fan of animated Disney movies, I could go on for pages and pages about the animation, songs, musical scores…ok, getting back to focus here:

Christensen focuses her article on children’s movies and entertainment, and the messages about society that they send to young children. She argues that the messages subtly portrayed in children’s movies surrounding race, ethnicity, gender, body type, and social class have a huge influence over how children perceive society. For example, when a child watches something like Cinderella, they are sent false messages about female gender roles, marriage, and beauty. As Christensen states:

 “these tales leave young women with two myths: Happiness means getting a man, and transformation from wretched conditions can be achieved through consumption - in their case, through new clothes and a new hairstyle. I am uncomfortable with those messages. I don't want students to believe that change can be bought at the mall, nor do I want them thinking that the pinnacle of a woman's life is an "I do" that supposedly leads them to a "happily ever after." I don't want my female students to see their “sisters” as competition for that scarce and wonderful commodity – men” (133).

As much as I love Disney fairy tale movies, I have to agree with Christensen in her argument. Through watching them, I’ve noticed that far too many of the stories display and emphasize unrealistic representations of different people and cultures. We shouldn’t teach our children through media that all women have to be a size zero, and have perfectly flowing hair, waiting around for a fairy godmother to show up and bring her a man to marry within the week and immediately make her life perfect. This only reinforces the gender stereotypes of girls, and now they feel like they have to change themselves because they feel pressured to be skinny, pretty, and feminine. They also fail to accurately represent human sexuality because these movies have only ever portrayed “true love” as an attraction between a handsome, muscular man and an unreasonably attractive, hyper-feminine girl. Nowhere does it portray love as a romantic attraction between two people of the same sex. It also associates youthfulness with beauty and kindness, since the protagonists are always very young, usually under the age of 20. The older characters tend to be portrayed as stereotypically ugly and evil.
I’ve noticed that cultures are also portrayed falsely in cartoons. While it’s true that most cartoon characters are white, some cartoons and movies are set in locations/eras of different cultures and feature people of color. But often times, these attempts at representing these cultures use false assumptions about these cultures that are ingrained in the perceptions of white Americans. For example, as Christensen states, the cartoon Pop-eye portrays most Arabs as peasants or thieves with turbins and swords. The same could be argued in Disney’s Aladdin, where the Arab stereotype is associated with evil.
I’ve noticed many similar cultural stereotypes while watching films like Peter Pan and Pocahontas, Native Americans are portrayed as the stereotypical “red” Indians with feather headdresses. Princess and the Frog, a recent Disney film set in New Orleans, attempts to highlight the culture and African American population in the area, but in doing so, waters down a complex cultural identity and reinforces racial stereotypes.
But while reading this article, I started thinking to myself, “Hold on a second - what about movies like Mulan? It features a woman who challenges the female princess stereotype by fighting in the army, which shows a strength in women, right?”
But unfortunately, while a children’s movie about a woman cross-dressing presents a less feminine side to women, it only focuses attention on gender stereotypes of the men. Most of humor in this movie comes Mulan’s struggle to act masculine; for example, her remark about male habits when she tries to present herself as a man: “You know how it is when you get those…”manly urges”…when you just gotta punch something, fix things…cook outdoors…” While it’s funny and we get a good laugh out of it, it still stereotypes men.
This really opened my eyes to the subliminal messages that I’ve been sent through the movies that I’ve always loved as a little kid and still love now – how has this affected how I see the world? I suppose that when watching these as a child, these movies shaped my views about the world in ways that I didn’t even realize, since the messages in these stories are so ingrained into our dominant ideology that we don’t even recognize them. Of course I can see the flaws now that I know to look for them, but to a 3-year old, as Christensen states, these flaws can have a major impact on how that child perceives gender roles, body image, sexuality, and race/ethnicity.
While generations of children have been fed stereotypes through fairy tales, we may be moving towards a more progressive era of children’s films with more diverse casts of characters. I came across this article the other day about the new Disney film, Frozen, and thoughts from another blogger about the elements that hint at a change in the stereotypes set in place by past films. While its far from diverse, it’s a step in the right direction (especially #5 – “Hey, did you notice the gay character?”) Hopefully we’ll see movies throw away more stereotypes in the future.
P.S. Sorry this post was so long…I tend to ramble about movies. Thanks for taking the time to read it J

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