Sunday, February 23, 2014

Safe Spaces


This week’s reading, Safe Spaces by Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy, deals with LGBT issues in schools. Compared to issues dealing with race or ethnicity, this topic is a bit different; while we can usually determine race by simply looking at a person, we can’t tell someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at them. But even so, students that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are facing more and more discrimination and harassment in schools today, especially since more and more are “coming out” and openly identifying as LGBT. Vaccaro, August, and Kennedy address the issue of discrimination of LGBT youth in schools today by giving us ways to present the issue in classrooms. They suggest including representation of LGBT identities and families in their curriculum just as often as heterosexual identities and families, so that students learn to accept both identities as part of the social norm and respect them.

 But, as the article explains, teachers are often teaching and reinforcing that identifying as LGBT is not OK – like the teacher that sent a student to the principal for using the word “gay” in class. While he was using it in a harmless way to describe his own family, as the authors state, “the teacher saw this for what it was: a teachable moment. But what did she teach? The message to Marcus and his classmates was that Marcus’ family was shameful, something to be hushed.” The teacher has even stated in the report that “this kind of discussion is not acceptable in my room. I feel that parents should explain things of this nature to their own children in their own way” (95).

While I was reading this article, it reminded me of a video that one of my friends showed me last year that shows the kinds of discrimination and violence that a homosexual person faces in school on a daily basis, but with a twist. The story is told through the eyes of a heterosexual girl living in a world where everyone else is homosexual and her experiences of identifying as a “different” sexuality at school. This video not only gives us insight into the daily experience of a homosexual in our world, but allows heterosexuals to relate to the main character and feel the struggle of having their own sexual identity alienated.

This short film is extremely powerful, and I’ll warn you now – it’s pretty graphic. But even though it’s so heavy emotionally, it’s exceptionally informative and well-written. Ever since I did, it’s helped me to understand the struggles of LGBT kids in school. As future teachers, I really hope you’ll all take the time to watch it.

…Pretty powerful, right? All I can do is just say, “Wow, Is this really reality for LGBT kids at school?”

 Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

It really puts the experience of having your own sexuality discriminated against into perspective for heterosexuals. What else amazes me about this is how little support Ashley has at school and at home. Almost everyone discriminates her: her friends, her teachers, even her parents! And to make things worse, the boy that she likes won’t even stand up for her out of his own fear of being alienated. She has so little support that she resorts to suicide as the only answer, a choice that far too many LGBT teens have made.
But what if that teacher that intervened while Ashley was being bullied had taught in his class that being LGBT was OK? Or if her parents had allowed her to be exposed to heterosexuality by letting her walk past the couple down the street? Or if the drama teacher had seen her wishes and decided to cast “Julio” as “Juliet” to fairly represent heterosexuals in society?
 In our society, we need to teach that LGBT identities are the normality for many teens, aren’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, and that these students need to be treated with respect. I think the authors of this article would agree with me when I say that if the other students had seen positive representations of her sexuality in school, maybe Ashley wouldn’t have felt forced to take her own life. The same might be true for LGBT kids in our society today if we create safe spaces for them in our schools.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The American Language

[Connections in "Aria" by Richard Rodriguez]

I’ve always enjoyed learning about languages other than my own, so this week’s reading was really interesting for me. I found “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez to be especially eye-opening since it approached the issue of multilingual classrooms from the point of view of a Spanish-speaking student in a predominately English-speaking community. I’ve always been curious about the experiences of those who learn English as a second language in America, and Rodriguez does an excellent job of explaining how his Hispanic background impacted and changed his experiences in school, and how his schooling impacted his experiences at home. I felt that this piece was also pretty heavy emotionally, particularly hearing about how even though learning English helped Rodriguez to be part of the English-speaking American community, his family life suffered and he lost the connection with his parents.

While reading “Aria,” I found myself making connections to other articles that we’ve read and discussed in class.  It first reminded me of the article we read last week, Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue.” Delpit presented a very similar issue to that of Rodriguez’s article – the communication barrier in schools. She wrote about the cultural differences in American classrooms, and the divide in communications between students and teachers of different cultural backgrounds. While she mainly addresses the difference in race, the linguistic differences that Rodriguez talks about also impact communication in schools just as much, if not more than race.  What connects these two articles the most for me is the idea of cultural identity – in this case, who someone is based on the way they speak. In Delpit’s article, she talked about “heritage languages” and different ways of speaking that define an individual and allow them to express themselves, and that “each child has the right to their own language, their own culture” (Delpit 37). The same is true in Rodriguez’s story; just because his language is not the majority in his school, he does not have the right to speak the way that he knows how to. When he is stripped of his right to speak Spanish at home and at school, in some ways, he loses his Hispanic identity.

Rodriguez’s article also reminded me of Allan Johnson’s article, “Privilege, Power, and Difference.” Johnson gives a main overview of the problems that we face today in American society dealing with race, gender, and sexual orientation, and the privileges associated with being part of the dominant ideology (straight, white male). Even though Johnson doesn’t focus on the issue of language differences in America, the idea of privilege still applies in Rodriguez’s case. For example, English-speaking people are also privileged in the same way that whiteness, straightness, and maleness are. Johnson says that if you are “different” than a straight, white male, you can be stigmatized in some way; similarly, according to Rodriguez, speaking another language other than English is cause for a stigma, and is a disadvantage in English-speaking America.  Just like Johnson explains that you have to be a straight white male to be considered “American” by most of society, Rodriguez proves that language is another factor – he even states that it was only when he was finally fluent in English that he “was an American citizen” (Rodriguez 36).

 I thought looking at “Aria” through the lens of Delpit and Johnson to be helpful, since it really got me wondering: How can students that speak other languages be free to use their own languages in school? And how are English-speaking people privileged in our society?  I also began to wonder how many people in Providence and in my hometown spoke languages other than English. I found this helpful link on the United States Census Bureau website that lets you see where other languages are spoken in the US. It really amazes me that English is still considered the main language of the United States, even when so many other languages are spoken here. What does this mean for uses of other languages in schools?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hearing the “Silenced Dialogue” – Lisa Delpit

[Argument Post]

What is the best way to educate students of color? If you had asked me that question last week I would have said, “What do you mean? Teaching students of color vs. white students should be the same, shouldn’t it? Methods of teaching shouldn’t depend on the student’s race, right?”

Lisa Delpit explores this question in her article, “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children” (This definitely wasn’t an easy read – it took a lot of thinking and rereading to take all 26 pages of thoughts, examples, and ideas and piece it all together into one clear main idea– but I think I managed to find her central argument  J ).

Delpit argues that students should be educated in a way that allows them to express their own culture through language, but also teaches them how to be successful in today’s American workforce.  As she explains, American society has one major “culture of power,” or one culture that dominates over all others (in this case, a white, middle-class background). Even though the children in the school system come from all different ethnic, racial, social, and religious backgrounds, they are all taught to conform to the culture of power when they are in school; that is, the same way of thinking, behaving, and speaking that is common in the white middle-class culture. However, Delpit argues that the goal of education should not be to erase all other backgrounds, but to allow each child to develop their own culture, while also learning how to function and succeed within the dominant American society as a whole.

An article by Tim Walker, “Closing the Culture Gap” also explains the role of cultural diversity in the school system, and the steps that teachers are taking to realize the impact of this diversity on children’s education. One teacher, Devon Alexander, shares many of the same arguments as Delpit: he says, “First and foremost, let your students know that their lived experiences are valid and valued. They have every right to hold on to who they are, what they know, and what they live, even if sometimes they have to stop and work through differences, but you also have to show them how to navigate our school culture so they can succeed.”

Even though as first, I thought all children should be educated in the same way (after all, we’re eventually striving for equality in society here), I’m realizing that there are reasons that all children actually should be taught differently based on the culture that they come from. The story that Delpit shares about the Native Alaskan class learning two different kinds of English – “Heritage Language” and “Standard English” - really struck me as inspiring. Reading that taught me that it is possible for us to learn how to express ourselves in our own way while also being able to speak and write in a way that everyone can understand.

 As a musician, I think of it like music – everyone learns how to speak their own language, but everyone, regardless of the language you speak, can learn to interpret music, the “international language.” As Delpit puts it, "Children have the right to their own language, their own culture. …It is not they, the children, who must change, but the schools. To push children to do anything else is repressive and reactionary” (37).

Picture sources:,

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What is White Privilege?

Quotes from Peggy McIntosh (Quote Post)

Reading Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack truly opened my eyes to the undeserved privilege that white Americans are treated with on a daily basis. Being white myself, I had never thought about what it meant to be “privileged” because of the color of my complexion, and have taken this freedom for granted in my own life, not realizing the extent of my own unearned privileges. While reading, I came across a few passages in particular that struck me as important because even though they are simple and present in our everyday lives, they carry so much importance in the issue of racism in our society.

“Many, perhaps most, of our white students in the United States think that racism doesn’t affect them because they are not people of color; they do not see “whiteness” as a racial identity.”(5)

Growing up in a mostly white community, I grew up with the perspective that being white was considered “normal,” and any other color of skin immediately stood out as different.  When we talked about race in school, we only learned the terms “Black,” or “African American”; “Indian” or “Native American”; “Asian,” etc…But  never “white.” To us students, we didn’t identify as really having a race. As McIntosh explains, this becomes problematic because white people begin to set themselves higher up on the social ladder, causing whites people in America to think that the term “racism” cannot apply to them because they do not identify as having a race. This false sense of invincibility leads to white dominance.

“When I am told about how our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it was it is.” (2)

McIntosh includes this statement in a list of unearned advantages given to the white American population.  One of the reasons that whiteness is valued in our dominant ideology is because the founding fathers of our nation were all white. While all Americans can recognize this, what we fail to realize is the lack of representation of successes of other races leads to the assumption that whites are the most powerful and most capable of leading, and therefore, “better.” We actually learn that whites are more important in schools.

I found an interesting article about teaching racism indirectly here:

“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.” (6)

I had to reread this statement a few times before I understood what McIntosh meant by this.  How I interpreted her view her here is that while white people are attempting to recognize the problems with racial inequality, they try to get rid of the problem using logic that is actually a hypocritical paradox – they talk about “equal opportunity” for people of all colors, trying to reject or play down the power of white privilege by elevating the status of all other races. But, they use this strategy to protect their privileges while making them seem like less of an oppressor to society. If this is the case, it’s not actually getting rid of the problem, is it?

I hope we can discuss this last quote in class in more detail – I’m interested in learning what you think about it. How white people can handle their privileges in a democratic way and strive towards finding equality between races?

Hello fellow bloggers!

Hi everyone! I’m Julie and I'm a Music Education student at Rhode Island College. I grew up in a small, rural town in Connecticut. While it’s a friendly community and I’ve made lots of close friends there, I’m excited to explore life away from the cows and cornfields and experience college life while living on campus in Providence. Ever since I started playing the flute in 5th grade, I’ve had a passion for music and all things creative, so having the chance to take my dedication for the arts and turn it into a full-time career is sort of a dream come true for me. When I’m not in class, rushing to class, or doing homework for class, I’m practicing my flute, singing or humming along with my favorite songs (or film scores!) or watching my favorite movies or musicals (anything Disney is fantastic!). If I have time, I also love sewing, dancing, and baking cookies with my sister. I started this blog for my class, FNED 346 - Schooling in a Democratic Society. I’m excited for this class and can’t wait to see what we will discover about teaching and while tutoring in the elementary schools this semester. I’m looking forward to blogging along with all of you!

-Julie J