Thursday, October 24, 2013

Apprehending The Reality Of Others *

A Reflection on Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer’s In The Service Of What? The Politics Of Service Learning

            I found this article a bit perplexing in spots because of the way they described how just sending the students off to do community service isn’t enough to make a difference internally. Also by not keeping a reflective journal, the student sometimes isn’t given the opportunity to really think about what they have taken away from their volunteering experiences. I was left baffled when the reason they give for not implementing a reflective component is because they “fear that such an orientation would diminish the focus on altruism” (pg. 11). Is this because the idea of writing about the student’s experiences is enough to not want to do any of the work at all? Do they think that the student won’t enjoy it or simply that they won’t do the volunteering at all?

We keep journals and sometimes blog about our service learning in schools. I think that if we didn’t do this, we wouldn’t get nearly as much out of it because it forces us to really observe the environment and the students and teachers interactions. I know that we learn and feel lots of things from working with the kids and just being there but knowing that you are going to write about a specific aspect of the experience, only deepens and enriches what you are noticing. I am a serious analyser so this week’s journal entry about what my classroom looks like will be a breeze for me. I can do this from memory because I have nick picked the classroom I work in. But I can’t honestly say that I would have looked up the demographics and diversity of the classroom or paid close attention to the ethnicities of the students in the classroom on my own without it being asked of me. It’s just not something I would have thought of and so I am grateful that we are given guidelines that suggest exploration of these areas.
            I do understand that younger students aren’t into learning as much as I am but really what would two to three paragraphs of reflection really take? Would they really think that was too much work for the effort of volunteering? Maybe I am just being too much of an optimist here. You all will have to offer me some realist perspective to balance my thought process out. Pretty please! The again, we live in a time where most have an entitlement mentality where everyone’s first thought is “what’s in it for me” so encouraging students to put others first is a herculean task. Perhaps this is the point being made in this argument?
            By having students go out into their community and volunteer, they are able to become more well-rounded. Their self-esteem can be built up, knowing that they are helping out. They become caring, understanding and involved members of their community.  I am so glad to hear that many schools are implementing a community service requirement because I think it’s so important to get intimate with your own surroundings while meeting people who share the same space. I also think the key to understanding is taking the time to work with others, listening to them and conversation about things that matter to both parties. In fact, I believe that if we could do this worldwide, we could achieve world peace. I know it’s a lofty goal and dream but totally possible!

            The focus question of this piece is about making it clear a few aspects for what service learning is and why we think it’s important.  Questions that are focused on are what are we starting with, where can we go from there and what will be our goals for improvement? By pointing out the various ideological, political, and social goals, we can offer a clear and concise reasoning for why both the actual act of volunteering and reflecting on said volunteering is so important to a student’s growth and understanding. Simply volunteering without reflecting on observations isn’t enough. It makes the student simply a labourer, one with good deeds in mind, but a labour none the less. In this instance, facts can be uncovered, plans can be created and projects can be presented but they will lack real-world, hands-on experience as no relationships are formed. And simply researching isn’t enough because it makes the student simply an intellectual with no hands-on experience. This helps the student build up their emphatic character with social awareness. Either option doesn’t make for a strong example of understanding what they have experienced or learned.
Christensen speaks of manipulation in her piece and here Kahne and Westheimer mention it too. “By manipulating the school curriculum, they could ultimately change the world” (pg. 4). Christensen thinks of the secret education as a way of manipulating consumers to think a certain way. Kahne and Westhemier are suggesting the same thing. It is just that with them, it’s a much more positive approach. By putting in place these goals of “analytic and academic skills, moral acuity and social sensitivity” (pg. 4) through the service learning, we hope to build up students who have a moral conscious and compassionate heart. But the analyzing aspect is key because it enables the student to actually notice and then understand what is really going on, just as Christensen encourages us to do with the media.
I know that Kahne and Westheimer agree with me and that they only offered both side of the coin for this service to show why it’s important to know what we are actually trying to get out of service learning.  They imply that starting with charity can lead to change and I have to agree. These seeds are planted in the students by assigning the service learning. The seed sprouts as they feel joy from helping. Their understanding and compassion blossoms as they begin to understand about the places they work in. “It is the combination of service and critical analysis, not either by itself, that seems most likely to promote interest in and insight into these complex social issues” (pg. 11). Still, we must remember that “acts of civic duty cannot replace government programs or forms of collective social action” (pg. 9).


I absolutely loved the idea Benjamin Barber shared about how “demographic politics have become something we watch rather than do” (pg. 9) because I agree. When Kahne and Westheimer say that “our participation in the acts of national service is a pre-requisite of citizenship and is essential for demographic institutions” (pg. 9) I believe he is hitting the nail right on the head. This is reminiscent of Kozol for me because it is us who can change the way we think about certain “bad areas” by actually working in them and interacting with the people who live there. Understanding what their story is and why they must live in such harsh circumstances. We can’t just put a band-aid on the problem by “providing token amounts of needed aid and yet never identify or respond to structural problems” (pg. 9) I am reminded again of the idea of democracy. Of Kennedy’s; “what can do for your country” address and of the Constitution; “we the people, for the people” and of Walt Whitman’s Song Of Myself; “the press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections, they scorn the best I can do to relate them.” All the warmest and truest ideas of what a democracy is. We need to get that back. Service learning can begin to do just that!
Questions For Class:
·         This is still bugging me….why else do you think teachers and schools are worried about the students keeping reflective journals?
·         I love the idea of community service as a democratic pre-requisite. This is being implemented in schools in order to graduate. What are ways we can encourage it without enforcement or bribery (for instance if they want to graduate, they must “do time”)?
Picture Links:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stating The Connection

Amendments To My First Four Blog Posts:

            I am constantly making connections with the pieces we read but I have noticed I never actually mention them in my post-ever! Of course I’m able to relate each piece to one or more other pieces we’ve read. I’m not sure I am not writing about the similarities. I know I have noted them occasionally in my comments! Anyway, the only article I cannot find something to relate to is the Kohn piece of Five Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job! I tried really hard! Could anyone else?

            Anyhow, here are some quick amendments to my first block of blogs:

# 1 – Flesh Coloured Human Beings on McIntosh’s White Privilege: I already relate this piece to Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference but the rules of a connection piece state that you must connect two. So I also would like to connect to Delpit’s Other People’s Children. In Delpit’s five rules for the culture of power, # 5 stands out in relation to McIntosh. Here she says “Those with power are frequently least aware of-or least willing to acknowledge its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.” (pg. 24) As McIntosh points out, white people are not aware of the privileged life they lead. Once they are shown the truth, they still have trouble giving up their unearned privilege. The people who notice this the most are those on the outside looking in. Those minorities don’t have the same privileges and they recognize that. Delpit’s fifth rule clearly defines McIntosh’s own observations.

# 2 – Affirming Various Cultural Values on Collier’s Teaching Multilingual Children: I relate this piece to Kohl’s I Won’t Learn From You article. If a teacher isn’t taking the time to get to the root of the students difficulty with English, the student is going to participate in “not-learning”. This is why, as Collier points out, it is key to notice the inflections and dialects of our student’s first language. If the teacher just gives up and chalks up the student’s lack of understanding and learning to not wanting to learn, they are not trying hard enough to get to the root of the issue. Both articles show us that there must be compromise and understanding between the student and teacher. Rodriquez’s Aria where he shows the complete loss of this home culture by trading it in for the English language so that he could be understood and learn. By convincing Rodriquez’s parents to only speak English in their home, they are taking the easy way out not for Rodriquez but for themselves.

# 3 – Bending Status Quo Attitudes on August, Vaccaro & Kennedy’s Safe Spaces: This piece reminds me of Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference. In his piece he mentioned a whole list of ways the heterosexuals hold privilege over the homosexuals. Among them are not running the risk of being reduced to a single aspect of their life, having their sexuality used against them as a weapon, the fear of being attacked because of who they love, being rejected by neighbours, being denied jobs and openly talking about their relationships. (pg’s. 32-33) In Safe Spaces we are reminded of many of them when it is pointed out that they homosexuals and transgender students are not being represented or accepted in the curriculum or the classroom (for the most part). The difference in Safe Spaces is that they are showing us teachers with privilege and some power who are taking the curriculum and their jobs into their own hands in order to change student’s views and make a difference.

# 4 – The System’s Problem Becomes the Victim’s Problem on Kohl’s I Won’t Learn From You!: This piece too reminds me of Rodriquez’s Aria. Not because Rodriquez puts up a fight in learning English but because of what he loses by doing so. He recognizes that your culture can be lost when you replace your home language with that of the dominant cultures. Aria proves Wilfredo’s worry in I Won’t Learn From You! In that through assimilation, you lose the connection to your family roots.

Dissecting The Influence

Connecting Allan G. Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference & Alfie Kohn’s Five Reason’s To Stop Saying Good Job! with Linda Christensen’s Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us

            We are a conditioned society. We numbly watch television and animated movies to remove ourselves from the reality that we live in. Whether it’s because we have had a rough day at work or we are stressed out about assignments or are worried about how we will be able to pay our bills, we can all relate. I always looked forward to Saturday cartoon’s as a way to what I call “de-bunny” (a Bridget Jones’ Diary reference) from the week. Just some fun fodder to help me unwind and relax while being able to step out of the roles I have to play each work day. If I analyzed these cartoons like I do with foreign films I would find subliminal messages in them as well. But I don’t because I’m so used to the messages they represent. Why is this? Well, because I grew up with them. I’ve been conditioned to accept them and not to question them. As Dorfman says “we are taught, more than anything else, how not to rebel.” (pg. 128) Quite frankly this gets me fired up. Who knew that kids shows are giving the wrong messages?

            I don’t like the idea of a secret education because I want to be the one in control. I’m ashamed to admit that just like Linda Christensen’s students, I have been manipulated. I recognize that I too, through the lens Christensen has provided in this piece, have “discovered the tools with which a young society is manipulated.” (pg. 126) I am a master analyzer and observer. Studying people and their actions is actually a hobby of mine because I want to understand. So how have I missed this blatant whitewashing of what I should strive for in my own life?

            The pressures have been in place all my life to be beautiful, thin and submissive. I am often told by relatives that I should check my brain at the door if I want to ever get a man. But why would I want someone who doesn’t love me for who I am, brain and all? Why should I paint of a mask of makeup and push up my breasts in order to attract a relationship? So I have not subscribed to these “rules” our society has in place. I have been single almost my entire life. I couldn’t define for you what being in a loving relationship is because I have never experienced it. I know that there are reasons beyond what has been outlined in this article for why this is but the fact remains that I don’t fit the mold at all and so I am not considered “attractive” in our society.

            As a little girl I dreamed of fairy tales but my favourite was always Mulan because she went out and fought for what she wanted to do but she had to do it as a man! That part of the message seemed to be disregarded. I’m pretty embarrassed to say that Cinderella was always one of my favourites too because she worked hard and dreamed just as hard and so her dreams come true. She was good and so she was rewarded. In many versions she also read a lot and that was something I could relate to. But how could I have missed where the moral of if you are good and can clean up nice then you will be rewarded with a prince? What’s worse is that I never even made the connection Christensen does in noticing that the Cinderella competes with her “sisters” to win the hand of the prince. This is something that has become a big issue in our day and age. “Sisters before misters” is said but not practiced. Most of us, it seems, believes our self-worth is winning over our friends to be the eye candy on the hot guys arm. The casualty of losing a great girlfriend isn’t enough of a loss to put their actions into perspective.

            By analyzing the films and cartoons, Christensen reminds me of Allan G. Johnson’s piece about using the words to understand better and actually make the change. “If we dispense with the words, we make it impossible to talk about what is really going on & what it has to do with us.” (pg. 2) By actually talking about the messages the media is projecting, by actually using the words which point out these ugly stereotypes we are able to recognize the control. What I love most about her classroom approach is how she bases it in a real world situation by having her students put their thoughts and arguments out into the world through pamphlets and essays. By having the students keep journals, they are able to explore how they truly feel about what they are discovering. They can then relate what they are writing to how it affects their lives and their world. Much like these blogs does for us. It’s a great way to notice what is going on and act upon changing it!

            Instead of telling the students what she notices, Christensen keeps her mouth shut, allowing them to spot the stereotypes themselves. This reminds me of Alfie Kohn stance on manipulating children. “Engaging them in a conversation…is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.” (pg. 1) Allowing the students to notice the messages themselves, builds their skills of observation and thoughtfulness. It also “helps them learn how to solve problems and teaches that their ideas and feelings are important.” (pg. 4) The students are then able to find their own correlations in the media and become active in speaking about how they feel about the pictures that are being painted. By “taking an issue and relating it to your life and/or society at large” the students are able to see how these stories affect their world and selves. (pg. 135)

            I remember seeing Disney’s The Princess and The Frog and really enjoying it. I didn’t read much into it when I saw it. I just wanted to enjoy it. I know, ignorance is bliss and I am sure there’s plenty in it that we could point to as stereotypical. It wasn’t just that it was the first black Disney princess or the Creole jazz that I was pleased with. It was the fact that she was a girl who worked hard to make her dreams of opening a restaurant comes true. And even after she falls in love with the prince and they decide to spend the rest of their lives together, she continues to make her dream come true. She opens her restaurant and even though she is now a princess, actually runs it! I thought that was the most important lesson and an essential piece for little girls to look up to. Because in this one the goal isn’t just to get a man and live happily ever after. She has dreams and goals and she goes for them. The prince is just a nice bonus! The students in Christensen’s class are putting out the message that they want to see more stories like this and we can too! 

Discussion Points for Class:

·       I absolutely love that the students are able to publish the information they gather from watching these cartoons and movies to spread the word around their society. What are so other ways we could encourage this in our classroom?

·       There are so many films and cartoons that portray these stereotypes that are influencing our children? How do we stop them from being watched to encourage a more balanced self view?

Picture Links:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The System’s Problem Becomes the Victim’s Problem & Problem Solving With The Child At The Helm

Part One:

The System’s Problem Becomes the Victim’s Problem

Herbert Kohl’s Argument on I Won’t Learn From You! Thoughts on the Role of Assent in Learning

In this piece Herbert Kohl argues here that that teachers and school systems are misinterpreting bad or removed behavior in the classroom as the student’s failing to engage or understand. If they are acting out or not participating, most of the time it isn’t because they have had bad teachers or don’t want to learn. Instead it is because they feel they are not being heard (in the case of bad behaviour) or attacked in some way. In Barry’s case, he actually didn’t know how to read but the stereotypical image he was seen in as a non-literate student was enough for him to throw tantrums when he was put on public display. This non-learning, as Kohl refers to it, could be because the feel a social loyalty to their culture or because they are being treated as a minority is a racist way. Either way, they are fighting against assimilation. By “turning willed refusal to learn into failure to learn we are not giving the students the support they need to speak out, allowing them a right to the “tree of life.” (pg. 1/pg.5)

In my eyes, Grandpa Wilfredo, Barry and Akmir’s concerns, feelings and behaviors are justified. The feel their survival rests in refusing to assimilate in order to preserve their identity. They fight authority in order to protect their rights. Instead of digging deeper, past our assumptions, into why Barry and Akmir have an aversion to learning, we instead look to who we should blame in the system or their homes. People have every right to their opinion; this is after all a democracy, so our students must be able to speak their minds. If they are radical ideas or racist ideals, then the discussion becomes even more important to have. “Learning cannot take place without respect for everybody’s voice.” (pg. 3) By allowing the students to say what they think and to share how they feel they begin to participate more and more in the classroom and perhaps outside of the classroom as well. And so “the only sane alternative to not-learning is the acknowledgement and direct confrontation of oppression-social, sexual, and economic-both in school and in society.” (pg. 5)

Part Two:

Problem Solving With The Child At The Helm

Alfie Kohn’s Argument on Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”

            In this piece Alfie Kohn argues here that we can’t help by praise our students and children because we are conditioned to do so. Isn’t the right way to encourage good behaviour by giving the child an “atta-boy”?  Kohn says no because by doing so we are reflecting upon them our opinions of what is right and wrong instead of allowing them to navigate their own feelings. What’s worse, is by bribing them to do things with such praise, we are supplying them with vast amounts of conditional love. So how can we steer them into the direction of finding their own “good job” feeling? Simply by stating what they have done and asking them what they think about it. “That card you made Zane had lots of animals on it and he smiled when you gave it to him!” That way the observation and the praise rest in the child’s own hands. This technique keeps the child from seeking our praise instead of their own.   
I was very concerned why I read this article for two reasons. The first was how could I support students and children in a way that “good job” without actually saying the words of praise? The second being how to actually break the conditioning of complementing. I am not exaggerating when I say I dole out the compliments like smiles. This was going to be a difficult idea to grasp. However, Kohn relived a bit of my uneasiness with his suggestions. I had always had an aversion to using the word “no “ too often because it lessens confidence (All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum talks more about this) , which is probably one reason I want to be an English teacher, but I didn’t realize that positive words were just as damaging. Children craving approval do so because we have given them conditional love; you do this and I will say good things. I had no idea that telling students and children what was right and wrong was me reflecting my opinions on them. I can’t help but find myself saying duh! By praising the work is then connected to the praise they want to receive, they may not even be interested in the material. By continuing to reach for the praise the proverbial bar gets raised higher and higher as they strive to keep up the “good job” they have been doing. These reasons are why we must become a mirror for our students and children instead of a window “helping a child learn how to solve problems and teaching that their
Questions For Class:

·         How do we allow our students to share their opinions without causing other students to feel offended?
·         What other ways can we encourage students without using verbal exclamation points or stickers with said exclamation points?

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bending Status Quo Attitudes

Talking about Quotes from Gerri August, Annemarie Vaccaro, and Megan S. Kennedy’s Safe Spaces – Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth


            I was going to do reflection writing on this article but I fear it may turn into a very long tangent on my part. Plus, there are some really profound quotes in this piece about human beings. I cannot believe people still believe that someone’s sexual orientation can be classified as wrong or worst, as a few examples were shown in this piece. That being said, as teachers, balancing what we believe should be taught against parents own beliefs that they have instilled in their children is probably the greatest struggle we have to face.
I was reminded of this fact when I read how Marley used interpretation in her class to show how a teacher from a state who has actually passed a law accepting same sex marriages is in a lawsuit for reading a story about a same sex family. One student in the class says that she things it’s a perverse act because it’s unnatural to love someone of the same sex and that showing that child teaches them that it’s okay. Truly, it kills me that this is still happening. What’s worse is that this student was college aged and was a teacher candidate! I want to be the kind of teacher that challenges the status quo but how can I do so without jeopardizing my livelihood? This article shared a few techniques by teachers who also wanted to bend the status quo assumptions.

In fact, teachers can use “the study of family [to] either reinforce or interrupt heteronormative beliefs and attitudes” but instead “they teach their students the status quo”, which is the heterosexual idea of marriage. (pg. 85) Why? Because you put your job on the line to do so as Marley proved above. By ignoring these types of families, we are not acknowledging the world around us. We are forgetting about the children who are part of these families. Why should it become a debate as to whether or not they should have their family represented under the term of family? It is the teachers who have the platform to bring such things to attention. You don’t have to share your opinion on the subject but you should present all forms of families, in every shape and size. I believe that even though these authors don’t spell this out (because they believe you should show your students that it isn’t wrong or abnormal) this is the message they are trying to transmit. Uncover these truths and say then say the words!
The part of this piece that got to me the most was when Maria said that when she got her graded paper back that told her that the answer to the question on if she had a sweetheart wasn’t novia (female for sweetheart) but rather novio (the masculine) because she was a girl. “Did it always have to be a choice of denying herself or explaining herself?” (pg. 89) The teacher’s assumption that she was heterosexual gave way to bigotry and made Maria question whether she should have to suppress her true answer for the status quo one. You are who you are so why should Maria have to explain her answer to the teacher to show that she wasn’t wrong to write novia? She shouldn’t. But then again, how does a teacher grade accurately if she doesn’t know that Maria’s sexual orientation actually makes her answer correct? Should it ever matter when it’s the difference between an “a” or an "o”? I say no.

When Zeke shares the homosexual family children books in his classroom, he does so because he felt that “the students need to know that LGBT individuals are not a threat to their well-being.” (pg. 90) He does this by sharing books that depict families full of tender love and care. Here he teaches his students that there if nothing to fear because although the families genetic makeup is different, their love isn’t, their support system isn’t and so the family, although looks different, isn’t different at all. Zeke breaks through the confines of the status quo to show his students that families that look different are still families that are good and safe places to be a part of.
Marley, Maria and Zeke all show the power that words hold but actually using words that fall outside of the status quo. Marley and Zeke both know that “words invite or exclude, recognize or erase, empower or intimidate, examine or assume” not only in their classrooms but outside of it too. (pg. 95) All three of them show us how true it is that “words are sticks and stones and that they can either build bridges or break bones.” (pg. 95) Word choice is most powerfully shown in the story of Maria’s test where her novia sweetheart answer is refuted by her teacher, a teacher she probably respects and may even look up to. This is Maria’s story shows why we need to say the words instead of ignoring them. Broadening the gap of assumptions by using instead partner and parent instead of girlfriend or boyfriend or husband or wife or significant other and mom or dad or grandmother or grandfather or aunt or uncle so that the children of these constantly evolving families feel included in the simplest of luxuries; the people they call home!

Discussion Points for Class:
·         Is it wrong to try to stop assumptions of heterosexuality by using the terms that leave our preference vague like our partner or parent or does that actually add to the covering up of” using the words?”

·         School is supposed to be a place where we teach our students about social justice in the way of tolerance. Are we as teachers out of line when we share our opinions about such subjects as LGBT families? Or should we just share the fact that there are different kinds of families and leave it at that?