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.