Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Once Upon A Time...

Linda Christensen, in her article, "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us" tackles the ideas that are taught to children from the time that they are able to understand a book, or understand that girls play with Barbies and boys play with Hot Wheels. Christensen refers to the "secret education" that we receive from all of the things that we encounter on a daily basis. These things, such as gender roles, are taught to us not in a formal education setting, but rather through the messages and images that we see in television, books, magazines and games. I had not thought much about this until it was brought to my attention in a Children's Literature class that I took as an Undergrad. We are being shaped and persuaded to think in a certain way right from the start. I would argue that very few people "wrestle with the social text of novels, news, or history books" or " critique portrayals of hierarchy and inequality in children's movies and cartoons." We simply take all the messages that are being thrown at us and put them into our minds as the things that are expected of us. Or at least some of them. I can remember from a very young age wanting to play with baby dolls and be the "mom" in any kind of playing. What I don't remember is when this started. When did it start that I wanted to be the "mommy"? Was it after watching television shows where girls were the moms, or was it from watching the example of my own mother? Maybe both. Christensen's discussion of Cinderella is one that I really enjoyed. Disney has an unbelieveable effect on our society. Little girls are taught by watching Disney princess movies that "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." Woman and girls everywhere want the "fairy tale," myself included, I think this in part is because I have grown up seeing the fairy tale and how much happiness that the princesses live with after. I came across an article last night that I can't stop talking about. Mercy Academy, an all female school in Kentucky has rolled out a new advertising campaign that focuses on the empowerment of girls by debunking fairy tales. The campaign tells girls that they are not princesses, so start doing things for themselves, and not to wait around for prince charming, but to rescue themselves. I love these ads and have even printed them out for my classroom, I, like Christensen, "do not 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 think these messages are just setting girls up to feel bad about themselves when their life doesn't pan out like that of the princesses. Christensen goes on to talk about critiquing cartoons, and stereotypes that are involved in them. For example, Popeye, has several ethnic stereotypes that run though it. Even the board game, Game of Life, has a set way to be happy, and "win." I would like very much to tie this dicussion into my class, but I am toying with how I can weave it in. I want my students to think about the messages that they have seen and been taught since they were little, and to think critically about how those messages have shaped their view for their own futures. The conversation of our distorted view of reality is one that I want to have with my students and hear their opinions on.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Identity Crisis...

The articles, "Aria" and "Teaching Multilingual Children" both deal with teaching bilingual students. Richard Rodriguez passionatly writes about his struggles growing up as a bilingual student in the United States and his feeling of the loss of identity with his family. Rodriguez speaks about his wish that teachers would have addressed him in Spanish when he entered the classroom, and how it would have helped to make him feel less afraid. This was an eye opener for me because I have never felt fear walking into a classroom. I can only imagine what it feels like to walk into a place where you know very little of what is being said and what is being expected of you. I can only imagine that my anxiety level would cause me to act much like Rodriguez and not speak much at all. The feeling that the home life and the school life were two seperate things is one that I had not thought of much before. So much of my school life carried over into my family life that it was as if the two were connected. That home was a continuation of school. My parents were constantly doing math flashcards with us and reading books with us after dinner. I can relate to that special feeling that Rodriguez remembers about his early family life. What I struggle with and cannot relate to is the feeling of the loss of their identity as a family. Language being the thing that tied them so closely together, and ultimately pushed them so far apart. Some of my students are bilingual students, and only speak their first language at home with their parents. A few of them have told me that they think in Spanish and dream in Spanish. They translate everything from the English that is being said to them to Spanish, and back to English to give the correct response. This must be exhausting. Collier writes about the code-switching that takes place with students, and I wish that I was better equipped to understand what students would be saying when they switch back and forth between languages. I think it's beautiful when students speak their first language, but many of them are embarrassed. Rodriguez writes "Today I hear bilingual educators say that children lose a degree of 'individuality' by becoming assimilated into public society." I agree with him, and I wish there was more that could be done to change it. The reality is that the culture of power speaks English, and therefore in order to be "successful" you need to also speak English. How awesome would it be if we could truly "teach in two languages, affirm the cultural values of both home and school, teach standardized forms of the two languages but respect and affirm the multiple varieties and dialects represented among students in class, be a creative and flexible teacher, serve as a catalyst for discovery as students learn to operate effectively in their multiple worlds, be able to mediate and resolve intercultural conflicts, keep students on task and on and on." How could we truly teach in all of the many languages of our students? The reality is that we can't, but we can have a "true appreciation of the different linguistic and cultural values that students bring into the classroom." An example of this was brought to the attention of our faculty recently regarding our Asian international students. They live together in a dorm, and have an advisor that serves as a liason between the students and the faculty. The advisor was speaking about the Chinese culture and how when the students are not looking in our eyes when they are talking it is not a sign of disrepect, but in their culture it is seen as a sign of disrespect to make eye contact with people in authority. An example also came from a friend of mine who teaches in Jamaica. He has found that the students are typically disrespectful to adults and this seems to be a part of their culture. Learning the culture of each of the students that are in front of us is very difficult. How can we foster the individuality and uniqueness of our students and still "prime" them to be successful within the power of culture? Collier writes "academic language does not come to kids automatically, just because they are in a dominant English-speaking locale. Academic language is context-reduced and intelectually much more demanding." Giving our students the tools to have a great academic language is the definition of success in many classrooms. The "caregiver speech" features I think are good ways to bring out the culture of our students while fostering their academic language at the same time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mirrors and Windows...

      "Safe Spaces Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth" by Vacaaro, August, and Kennedy discusses strategies and ways of thinking that can help transform our classrooms into places of total acceptance and support for all students. The idea that inside the classroom walls and outside the classroom walls students are different people is an idea that I am struggling with. While I understand the point of acting in a certain way in a classroom setting, and speaking in a certain way, I do not agree that students check parts of themselves at the door when they walk through it. Or do they? And if they do, why? I do not think that there should be an "in classroom" and "out of classroom" student. That implies that we are not educating the whole student, only part of them.
       Because so much of what I try and do is create an inclusive atmosphere, I really loved when the article said "create an atmosphere in which difference is not only tolerated but expected, explored, and embraced, students will be more likely to develop perspectives that result in respectful behaviors" this is what makes my classes fun. If I had to teach a bunch of cardboard cutouts I don't think that I would be a teacher. Difference should be celebrated. Unfortunately, I think that in a lot of cases difference is not celebrated. Many teachers think that their job is to "manufacture" a certain student at the end of taking their class and so the actual student is not celebrated, just the knowledge that they can spit back at teacher.
      "Heterosexism is one of these unexamined avenues of privilege." This statement bounces me straight back to the culture of power.  The culture of power decides what a "normal" family looks like, what a "normal" relationship looks like, what "true love" looks like, and what "beautiful" looks like. It is true that being a heterosexual does have privileges within the culture of power. Privileges that are being fought for currently in society. The culture of power has designed school curriculum to produce people that stay within the norms of the culture of power. I think a lot of teachers are afraid to push against what they are "supposed" to be teaching. They are nervous to introduce books that are not necessarily on their curriculum lists or directly connect to a standard. I agree that "teachers still don't know what they can and can't do. LGBT students need advocacy and protection, not neutrality." Pushing against what is expected of them and then possibly causing controversy with parents could lead to teachers losing their jobs. I know this sounds extreme, but administrators do not want to deal with controversy. The media is a whole other issue. "Even teachers who describe themselves as social justice advocates fail to challenge homophobic or transphobic language and images in many early childhood settings. Powerful social messages are responsible (at least in part) for this noncritical allegiance to traditional perspectives." Thankfully, many television shows are beginning to show homosexuals in couple. This is especially true in shows targeted at teenagers. Glee, is one of the shows that has no problem showing a homosexual couple.If the media does in fact shape society, I know its not much, but maybe it is a step in the way of acceptance of all.
      A few weeks ago Rolling Stone magazine, who I very rarely read, ran an article about gay students in Christian schools and how some schools are expelling students based on their sexual orientation. This makes my heart break. That is not what being a Christian is about at all. We are supposed to be an inclusive place where everyone feels welcomed and loved, not an exclusive place where people are rejected. It's schools like the ones in the article that give religious schools a bad rap and completely turn people off from any religion at all. I thought it was interesting in the article that a teacher refused to call a student by the name that they had chosen. Why would a teacher ever do that? I call my students by whatever they want to be called. I have a student now whose name is Samuel, but he is called Timmy by his family and friends, so I call him Timmy. Why would I call him Samuel if that is not who he identifies as?
      It really outrages me that schools would teach in their health classes that "homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle that poses a public health risk." That is not reality at all. Check out this article. It will completely shock you as to who is spreading diseases.
       There is a real fear or phobia of the unknown or the misunderstood, and I think that as teachers it is our job to extinguish those fears. "Instructors committed to inclusion find ways to bring the voices of the LGBT community into their curriculum." It's our job to find the teachable moments like so many of the teachers in the chapter did.