Sunday, December 5, 2010

Empowering Education - Reflection

Ira Shor’s Empowering Education was the perfect reading to bring closure to everything that we have learned through FNED 346. I feel like the reading combined themes from nearly all of the authors we have read this semester from Delpit’s “culture of power” to Finn and Oakes's emphasis on critical thinking. I even felt like I could hear Johnson’s voice throughout the article telling us that as educators we can’t be afraid to just talk about issues and reality.

There were many different topics covered in Shor’s work, but the one that struck me as most important was the idea that education is not and can not be neutral. Ever since I decided that I wanted to be a teacher I have been nervous about what are appropriate and not appropriate issues you can discuss in the classroom. How much can students’ know about your personal beliefs without them feeling like you are forcing your opinions onto them? Can I really talk about the issues of race, gayness, and gender we cover in FNED?

All of the authors we have read would probably say YES you have to! Shor, especially, would say that it is absolutely necessary and that education is not neutral as it is, anyway –despite what people say.

Education is not neutral because is supports the status quo (this is where I could hear Delpit’s voice) and the dominant ideology. What is included and excluded from the curriculum is, in itself, a biased process that affects how students perceive reality and the norm. When students of color read only literature written by white authors, learn about the history of white people, and are taught by a white faculty, they are learning something about how our society perceives their abilities. This is the same as what we learned about Brown v. Board of Education and why the segregation of black and white children in schools was harmful. Even if the facilities are equal, it teaches children that it is better to be white.

This is why education can not be neutral. Education should be about asking questions and developing critical thinkers in order to empower students to make a difference. If all we are doing is teaching students to memorize information than we are simply allowing the process of class, race, and gender segregation to continue cycling in our culture. As teachers it is crucial that we(as Dr. Bogad says)are not afraid to yell fire as the building burns down.

If anyone is still interested in other places to look for information about Empowering Education, I found this interesting non-profit org that has a lot of useful things for teachers!

I realize this blog entry is a little late and for that I apologize. This past week has been extremely stressful and filled to the brim with work, classes, reading, papers, and the unfortunate timing of a very upsetting personal problem.

I just want to say that in my entire college career (I have been in school 4 years now!) this class has been the most important class I have ever had. I will never forget the relationships I have made or the articles and conversations I have learned from. This was truly empowering education!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gender Inequality - A Very Sad Story

I had to make a post about this news story I just read about a woman who died from blatantly inadequate treatment while in jail and died of pneumonia. It gets worse ... the woman was also pregnant. Wait, it gets even worse: she was put in jail BECAUSE she got pregnant.

You're probably thinking ... in America? Yes, this woman was on work release for various different crimes. Apparently in this particular county, getting "yourself" pregnant violates the terms of your probation because she "wasn't allowed to have sex" and being pregnant was proof that she had.

I have never been in such disbelief in my life. Is this law even legal to be made? How on earth can they justify putting women in jail for getting pregnant? Why is it always the woman's fault for getting pregnant? The last time I checked, unless you go to a sperm bank, there needs to be two people in that equation. Also, if a man was under similar restrictions, they would have so much more trouble finding "evidence" that he had had sex.

I am seriously appalled by this issue I don't even know what else to say. Her mother filed a civil rights lawsuit, let's hope she wins this case.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Promising Practices

Despite having to be up for 8 a.m. on a Saturday, I was excited to feel like a teacher for a day and gain some professional development experience. It also ended up being a good opportunity to get to know my other classmates from FNED because we sat and worked together in Donovan.

The first session I attended was, “My Professor Never Told me…”: Student Teaching in Diverse High School Classrooms with Janet Johnson. I found it to be interesting and useful.

Being an English educator, Dr. Johnson had us begin by taking 10 minutes to journal about our feelings and apprehensions about student teaching. I wrote:

What makes me nervous about student teaching? Well, just about everything. I’m not even in the school of education yet and just thinking about it gives me nervous butterflies. I guess it all depends on where I am placed and who my host teacher is. A more positive person might say, “What if he or she is awesome and you love it?” But, of course, my thoughts immediately go to the opposite end of the spectrum, “What if he or she is a crazy, mean, evil, intimidating teacher?!” I need to work on that…

The session was then made up of a panel of newly graduated teachers who had just done their student teaching. They talked about their experiences, answered questions and offered advice. They told us to communicate with the host teacher ahead of time about what we want to do and what we need to do and to not be afraid to work with the special needs teachers if you are having trouble with inclusion students.

They were so open and honest as they told us it will be the most stressful semester of our lives, especially if we are also working on top of student teaching full time. You absolutely need to have a good support system they told us, and find a relaxing hobby to release stress.

Most importantly, they told us about the mistakes they made and how it wasn’t the end of the world, “always remember that it is a learning experience!”

If you missed this session but are feeling apprehensive about student teaching, I found this website filled with Student Teaching Tips & Advice.

During the quick break between sessions, someone in the group told us that one of the booths was giving away free teacher-y things. Being a total dork, I was pretty excited to get stickers, 4 maps, and a dinosaur poster!

The second session, Caring in School: Problem Solving Issues of Equity was also interesting but not as useful. Vanessa was also in this group and I think she felt the same way as I did. Essentially, the presenter had the What and the So What but we never got to the Now What aspect. We began with a little bit of journaling here as well –the prompt was to write about the kind of teacher we were striving to be. I didn’t have much time, but I jotted this down quick:

When I imagine my future relationships with students as a middle or high school teacher, I picture myself as being the kind of person who students feel comfortable approaching with any of life’s problems. I want to create an open and honest atmosphere in my classroom and I want my students to know that I really care.

Her presentation was mainly showing us the study she worked on for her master’s degree. She wanted to “expand the view of caring in education” by working in a very diverse charter school where many students were ESL and had immigrated here to the U.S. from foreign countries. I was reminded of McIntosh’s White Privilege because she told us stories about the struggles of students in a school with primarily white teachers. McIntosh writes, “I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth” which accurately describes the struggles that black and other minority students faced against their primarily white teachers.

One story she told us was about a black girl named Asha who was still learning English and was being sexually harassed by a male student. Despite telling her teacher, no one comforted her and the boy remained unpunished. Johnson, however, would have been proud because Asha didn’t give up and used her voice because it was a matter of injustice. She said, “This is something you need to take care of, don’t tell me to forget about it … now he needs to suspend. Because he can’t do that, that kind of thing. He can’t treat me that way.”

Although the stories she told about some student’s struggles with racism and sexism were interesting and very relevant to the topics we discuss in class, I felt like her ideas about caring were a little too vague and abstract. Overall, I’m not sure how successful the session was.

Finally, I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Dennis Shirley, who co-wrote the book Mindful Teacher. I didn't have enough money to buy it at the time, but I plan on purchasing it in the future. I felt like he had a lot interesting things to say that corresponded to the issues we have been covering in FNED. I also found that Mindful Teaching was more serious and meaningful than the idea of “caring” (which to be honest, I found a little over-sentimental and corny). The topic was very relevant in education today where people who have never been in a classroom before are developing mandatory guidelines for teachers that simply do not work.

One of his PowerPoint slides titled, Alienated Teaching said that the “pressure on teachers to conform to rules results in teachers losing important connections with students.” He emphasized the importance of listening to teachers. He also talked about the key aspects of Mindful Teaching such as open-mindedness, authentic assignments, and harmonizing and integrating.

What stuck with me the most, however, was when he said that, “being a teacher is not always about aligning with the government. Students come first.”

I have to say that overall, the Promising Practices conference was a great experience. It really got me motivated and excited about education. I cannot wait to be a teacher!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Citizenship in School- Extended Comments

I was very moved by Anne's Blog entry on Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome this week so I am going to reflect on some of the things that she talked about by taking excerpts from her post.

She said,

“People have a way of judging before they truly understand. People with disabilities are some of the strongest people anyone will ever meet. They are fighting a battle everyday that they can overcome and get past to be able to be accepted in society.”

I don’t think anyone could have worded this better and I definitely agree. It shouldn’t be so difficult for people with disabilities to have the acceptance and respect of all people in their community. Unfortunately because of our society’s stigma against disabled people, (SCWAAMP ablebodiedness = privilege) they are often seen as less than human. It is hard for me to imagine having to struggle in a culture that makes it a painful, degrading challenge for me to succeed.

She also wrote,

"In elementary school I did have to take a "special" gym class but that didn't last very long. I also didn't like that I was being singled out. I feel that kids with disabilities should be able to be in a regular classroom with everyone else."

This is exactly the sort of problem Kliewer discusses in his article –the segregation of students who aren’t “normal.” I’m very glad Anne said that her having to be in a “special” gym class didn’t last too long.

Finally, I found that Anne’s conclusion summed up Kliewer’s thoughts perfectly. She wrote,

“They just might need a teachers aid to give them a little more attention but its good for the kid to interact with kids without disabilities and it is also good for the students without disabilities to interact with them so they can understand a little better about what their peer is going through and wont jump right away to judgement.”

My cousin Tommy has autism, and Kliewer’s article really spoke to me because Isaac very much reminded me of him. Tommy is now in middle school and the classes he does the best in are his inclusion ones (where he is in regular education classrooms) because he isn’t being segregated into a learning environment with low expectations.

Although throughout Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome I wondered if including all students together in the same room would negatively impact nondisabled students, I thought about what Dr. Bogad said on the issue of tracking –that segregation only benefits those who are the most privileged. In class I think we should compare how this is topic is similar to the topic of tracking. I also wondered if Kliewer believes that there should no longer be any such thing as Special Education classrooms.

I also found a very interesting site that hosted a poll and debate about whether or not inclusion classrooms are beneficial. You can find it here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Social Justice - Sex Trafficking

This doesn't really have to do with education so much as social justice, but I still think it is relevant to our discussions about the oppression of women and how this leads to violence against women.

I recently read this article on CNN, about the rescue of child prostitutes and the arrest of over 800 men who exploited these girls.

It is unimaginable what these girls went through. But the video bothered me because CNN showed only WOMEN being arrested and in handcuffs, as if they were not victims at all. I found this to be an appalling example of how backwards our country's laws are. Even if these children were "willing" they are still children and they mostly came from unstable backgrounds and exploited by these men with promises of food and acceptance. How are they criminals? In places like Sweden and Norway, even adult women are not arrested for prostitution, only the people buying sex are considered criminals.

I'm not exactly sure what my opinion about the legality of prostitution is but a part of me thinks that in a society where women are considered sexual objects, prostitution represents a severe problem in the oppression of all women.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finn and Oakes - Quotes

As I read the two articles for this week I tried to keep Dr. Bogad's words in mind, "can separate be equal?" I found that unlike the Brown v. Board case, where I could firmly say that separate was not equal, I could not come to a definitive answer on either side of the issue of tracking students in public schools.

Starting with Oakes, Tracking: Why Schools Need to Take Another Route, I found myself going back in forth between arguing that schools should group students into different levels to arguing that it is harmful to students to do so.
Oakes writes,

"Tracking leads to substantial differences in the day-to-day learning experiences students have at school. Moreover, the nature of these differences suggests that students who are placed in high-ability groups have access to far richer schooling experiences than other students."

I’ll draw from my own experiences to comment on this quote. In my own school, Math, English and Science classes were broken up into high, middle, and lower level groups. When I was in honors classrooms I did much better than when I was in inclusive classrooms because the teachers spent less time on discipline, we went at a faster pace, and I was motivated to keep up with the other students. In my regular classes I was bored easily, distracted, and less challenged. While on the one hand I think it would be beneficial for previously labeled lower level students to be in classrooms with highly motivated students, I worry that it might drag the material behind for the students who are moving faster.

I enjoyed reading Finn’s experience growing up and teaching in urban Chicago schools in, Literacy with an Attitue but when he described the feelings of some of his graduate students, I must say that I had to agree with them,

"When I suggest to my hard-bitten students that poor children are not being as well educated as they could be, they are not amused. They take it as a personal attack from someone who has been living in in ivory tower for the last thirty years and they resent it—a lot"

Finn describes the only 8 years he ever spent teaching in public schools as being the wrong way to go about it (militant-like, not challenging) and then went to graduate school where he changed his perspective. But he never describes how he personally implemented his new teaching method theory. Considering how difficult these teachers in urban areas seem to have it, if he hadn’t tried these ideas on his own I probably wouldn’t listen to him either.

I think the best quote from Finn was about students in working class areas and schools systems,

"Their capacity for creativity and planing was ignored or denied. Their response was very much like that of adults in their community to work that is mechanical and routine."

I am a firm supporter in social justice opportunities for underprivileged students and I think it is horrible that teachers significantly lower their expectations and materials to those children who deserve a good education. That being said, I also think it is unfair to punish highly motivated students by giving them less attention because they somehow, “don’t need it” and this is the unfair attitude that these authors seem to suggest.

If you are interested in social justice and equitable education, I suggest looking to books by Louise Dunlap: Undoing the Silence I met and worked with her at a teaching conference two years ago and found it to be a great experience.

I’m interested to hear what the rest of the class thought of these articles and the conference. Do you think schools school segregate based on GPA and perceived abilities of students?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gender and Education - Hyperlinks

I thought I would start this blog entry about Gender and Education with a funny yet depressing video from what looks like the 1950’s. It is amazing that in my grandparent’s lifetime this sort of though existed:

Yeah, it is more than just a little big nauseating but it just goes to show how far we've come in terms of redefining the roles of women in society (if that is even something that can or should be defined).

This more recent article I found online, Gender Bias in Education by Amanda Chapman of D'Youville College was extremely interesting and relates very well to what we discuss on our class in regards to gender equality in the classroom.

Here is a quote I found most important:

“The socialization of gender within our schools assures that girls are made aware that they are unequal to boys. Every time students are seated or lined up by gender, teachers are affirming that girls and boys should be treated differently….When different behaviors are tolerated for boys than for girls because 'boys will be boys', schools are perpetuating the oppression of females…Girls and boys continue to be socialized in ways that work against gender equity.”

This article goes on to discuss different aspects of American education that negatively affect girls. I think that this also relates to what we discussed last week about how segregation of black students from whites creates a “badge of inferiority.” When education curriculum of any course focuses primarily on the accomplishments of men, girls feel as though they are not as capable to succeed in society which then negatively affects their ability to perform as well as boys do.

I think the most important aspect of the article is that it talks about what the teacher can do to promote an equal opportunity learning environment in his or her classroom. Apparently there was an experiment done where a group of teachers were given scholarly research (like what we read in this class), were taught what types of activities reinforce stereotypes, and a few other things dealing with gender in the class room.

They found that:

“teachers who are made aware of their gender-biased teaching behaviors and then [are then] provided with strategies and resources to combat bias are better able to promote gender equity in their classrooms.”

I feel positive about the end of this article because I feel as though, in FNED 346, we are being given this information and these strategies that will help us be better teachers.

Finally, I found a video about middle school students who are learning about gender and society. I think it is a really good idea to talk about these concepts in all levels of education!

In class I just want to discuss what we have all learned from our research on gender in education. I'm interested to see what other people found and compare it to my information.