Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where to You Stand? (Miscellaneous Post about class today)

I really liked that activity that we did today.  Partly because I like debating what to do in real life situations, and partly because it gives a practical application for everything we have done so far.  We have learned a lot of theory and this was a way to apply what we have learned.  I wish we had time for more situations because I like this kind of thing.
I think the one I was most adamant about was the housing one.  (And I know most people disagree with me about that one.)  I guess my thought is that most kids aren't going to remember the majority of the facts that you teach them.  That's just a fact.  But I think kids will remember the messages you send them.  And if a kid left high school and said, "Miss Milner canceled a community service trip we were supposed to take because it was a discriminatory organization, and instead we did a project that helped ANYONE in need," I think I will have sent the right message.  An important part of this would be how you say it (I think Emily emphasized important point when we were talking about the Thanksgiving project).  I wouldn't want the kid to leave to say "Miss Milner canceled our trip because she doesn't like Christian organizations."  Cancelling this trip would require a lengthy discussion with the students (not a lecture) about what is wrong about this and arranging an alternative.
I want my future students to know that I will stand up for what is right; if that means challenging the administration, the community, the PTO, or cancelling a trip, I want them to know I will try to do what is right.   And that is as important as any lesson about Napoleon or the Adams-Oneid treaty that I could be teaching.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Social justice issues with my grandparents (Miscellaneous)

Usually at least one night a week my grandparents (Nannie and Papa) eat dinner at my house, something we have been doing for years.  We talk about almost everything you can think of, priests at church,politics, my grandmother's sisters, my Service Learning, the cooking show my grandfather likes, my mom's co-workers.  You name it, we have talked about it.  Today the topic turned to some of my friends from high school who go to school in Boston.
 "Did I tell you Nick has a girl friend now?" I blurted out.
My grandparents, who like Nick, express their happiness for him.
"What about Josh?" Nannie inquires.  "Does he like any girls?"
"Um..." I am forced to make a split second decision.  I haven't mentioned anything before, afraid my family will judge and condemn my dear friend.  But then I remember, why should they react like this? "Actually Josh doesn't like girls."
"You mean he's gay?" Nannie asks.
Nannie answers, "Well I would never have known that.  Not from his personality or anything.  I always think I can tell if someone is gay."  Looking at Papa she says, "Aren't I always telling you, this one is gay or that one is gay? Like from the way they talk."
"I guess you can't always tell something about someone from the way they act or look." I say.
"Is he gay? Well that's fine.  He's such a nice young man.  I guess he's still really into his music right now?"  And the conversation moved on from there.
Later, Papa starts talking about some new neighbors moving in down the street.  "They moved in next door to the black family down at the end of the street near Gentian.  You know, I remember when in a neighborhood I used to ride my bike through, a black family moved in and all the For Sale signs went up."
"When was that?" I ask.
"Oh that was awhile ago.  Now the people who live next door to us are black.  And nobody wants to move."
"You do have a nice neighborhood," I comment.
"It is nice," Nannie agrees.  "We're lucky.  We don't care who our neighbors are as long as they are good neighbors."

Dinner tonight just made me realize that even though we are learning about these issues for school, they never really go away.  This might be education for being a good teacher, but it's education for life as well.      

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Extended comments from Nick's blog: the role of unions in reform

I just liked all the points that Nick was making this week so I wanted to build off the questions he was asking this week, and the points he was bringing up.  As he explains, Shor pretty much sums up everything else we have been reading this past semester, “Shor talks a lot about what we've already heard so much about: the educational system we have is a broken system that works more often for those who have social or economic blessings than minorities and other students.”  So how do we fix this?  Shor highlights several key areas, notably participation of students in the classroom. 
Nick mentioned another, related approach: the fact that teachers, as a group could really make a huge difference because there are so many.  I agree with Nick in theory.  Teachers should be able to make great changes in public education.  Yet sadly, this is not always the case.  Teachers do make change on behalf of students, but it seems to be generally on an individual basis.  Individual teachers might do great things, but in general it seems that teachers do not unite and successfully advocate for large scale reform. 
Yet we know that teachers are capable of uniting and advocating.  They do it famously – for themselves.  Teachers unions are able to do amazing things, but it is very rare that these unions do anything directly for the benefit of students (sometimes changes benefit both groups, for example, advocating for limited class sizes).  Sometimes changes like higher pay, aren’t really related to learning, but other positions are.  For example, the protections unions give to teachers are incredible.  Sometimes that is a good thing (and I’m sure I will live to appreciate that), but as this Newsweek article points out, “Moe: We're not saying that unions are responsible for every problem of the public schools, but they are major obstacles to reform. An obvious example: the teachers' unions have fought for protections in contracts and in state laws that make it virtually impossible to get bad teachers out of the classroom. On average it takes two years, $200,000 and 15 percent of the principal's time to get one bad teacher out of the classroom. As a result, principals don't even try. They give 99 percent of teachers satisfactory evaluations. The bad teachers just stay in the classroom. The unions are also responsible for seniority rules that often require districts to lay off junior people before senior people. It's happening all around the country now. And some of these junior people are the best teachers in the district, and some of the senior people being saved are the worst. Would anyone in his right mind organize schools this way if all they cared about was what's best for kids?
I think that is a problem.  Teachers should unite, as Nick suggests.  But as teachers, maybe we should do more than just advocate for ourselves.      

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reconceptualizing Disability

Christopher Kliewer’s article, “Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome” deals with the issue of inclusion in schools.  Interesting, Kliewer never specifically names the issue as such because I think he wants to discuss a broader issue than just meaningful participation of students with disabilities in schools.  In this article Kliewer discusses how our society views those with disabilities, specifically intellectual disabilities.  Kliewer argues that what we traditionally consider “handicaps” (something that holds an individual back) are just one aspect of who that individual is.  In fact, people with disabilities have many strengths and it is a fault of the culture of power that those who don’t have the most traditional, linear set of abilities are excluded from citizenship in our democracy (by this Kliewer means they are excluded from meaningful participation in a community, he’s not talking about voting rights or political participation.)  Kliewere includes several success stories about educators who have made it work; they have successfully recognized the strengths of the students they are working with and have incorporated those strengths into the classroom dynamics. 
From my own experiences working with students with disabilities I have seen both ways that the inclusion in schools can go.  I can think of some really great success stories.  For instance, graduating with me there was a student who had autism, but was actually pretty social (he just had some unusual communication styles) and he played on sports teams and went to a lot of classes in general education.  He is actually at CCRI right now.  I know he works incredibly hard, and as his special-ed teacher has told me, “He’s proving a lot of people wrong right now.” 
Sometimes inclusion doesn’t work though.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  I think the most important point to take away in this class is that ALL teachers must make an effort, not just a special-ed teachers.    

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Class issues in America

So much I want to say about the texts this week, so little time. ( I wrote fast I guess.) I really was all over the place with opinions about them.  I guess to put it simply I progressively disagreed with them more and more in the order that I read them.  The first article, by Patrick Finn struck me as incredibly accurate.  His descriptions of the types of schools in different neighborhoods (while they were vast generalizations) were very consistent with my own experience.  The poor kids are trained to stay poor.  I never used to believe this.  I used to say, “This is America.  Everyone has the opportunity to succeed.  Just work hard and you will be fine.”  I used to think that if I ended up living in a poor neighborhood I wouldn’t have any objection to sending my kid to the local school.  After all I thought, “How bad can the education really be? I’ll just be a good parent and my kid will get the same school experience as a kid in any other neighborhood.”  Now I know that that is not the case.  Schools in affluent neighborhoods teach kids how to be creative, solve complex problems, and think independently.  My experience working in Providence has shown that this is absolutely not the case for schools in poor neighborhoods where students are rewarded with tickets for being quiet all week and getting their homework done. 
            This article reminded me of Peggy McIntosh’s article in which she compares being white to having an “invisible knapsack” full of “unearned advantages.”  The articles this week did not specifically discuss the issue of race, but I think the fact that the school I visit in an affluent town has no students of color in the class, and the Providence school I go to is entirely composed of students of color should speak for itself.  Whiteness does give unearned advantages in schooling.  Whiteness allows a student to attend a school that grooms her for a life of achievement, and allows her to avoid a school that prepares her for a life at the bottom of the economic ladder.
            The article about tracking was somewhat problematic for me.  On the one hand I am studying special education with the current major focus on inclusion.  I know all the benefits of inclusion and I have observed first hand this semester how it can work well to integrate students who perform at a lower level (in this case because of a documented disability) with students performing at a higher level of achievement.  On the other hand I was a student who went through my middle and high school years primarily on an “Honors” track.  And I was very grateful for this.  I disliked when classes weren’t tracked.  The class was boring, more often interrupted for discipline problems, I had to do all the work in group projects, and lacked the interesting discussion I loved so much.  On top of the academic parts of class I tended to feel singled out.  I was the “geeky” one who asked too many questions, finished her work too quickly, and enjoyed talking with the teacher (my substitute for class discussion).  I think there is a way for classes to avoid tracking, but I have yet to see it realized in reality. 
            This article reminded me of some of the work we did a few weeks ago about Brown vs. Board of Ed.  For example about the issue I mentioned on my blog about busing students to different districts.  Just as students from poor neighborhoods would benefit from attending school in more affluent ones students from “low ability tracks” would probably do well if put into the “high ability track”.  But the answer isn’t to move a couple of students around so that they benefit from some higher expectations.  Instead, I agree with the author when she suggests that the answer is to improve the content of integrated classrooms so that all students will find it relevant and meaningful and are able to succeed. 
            Finally, I thought that the clip while attempting to make a valid point (that there is class in America) was incredibly exaggerated and made a mockery of the issue.  I couldn’t agree more with the claim that class has a subtle and pervasive influence in America.  But the key to this idea is that the influence is subtle!  People living in 200 year old mansions done in the style of the ones in Newport are not the prime evidence of class having an influence.  The influence is there, but it is not as obvious as that film suggested.  Class is evident in a situation like this one: My dad works at a skilled, but somewhat blue collar job that allows my family to live a comfortable middle class life style.  It requires him to work on Sundays because the factory runs 24/7.  A friend of a friend (who is much more affluent) knows that my dad has such a work schedule, and when my dad takes a Sunday off always asks him at church, “Not working this Sunday?”  This really bugs my dad because he knows that the man is subtly rubbing my dad’s nose in the fact that this man does not have to work an unconventional schedule to support his family.  Class issues are subtle and this film suggests that they are blatant and easy to identify.         

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Gender bias, Title IX, Higher Education, and the Media

The first couple of texts I found related to this topic were focused primarily on the issue of gender discrimination in higher education.  I ended up focusing a little more about this issue after reading the article on Dr. Bogad’s blog.  I couldn’t believe some of the incidents that the article mentions.  I guess I wasn’t shocked that some of the t-shirts were stolen for example, but the chant the fraternity members were chanting, about “no” meaning “yes”, was horrifying.  I can’t believe that anyone would ever consider that acceptable on a college campus.  I would like to think that something that extreme wouldn’t happen at RIC.
The first academic article I found related to this topic discusses the problem of gender bias in law school.  While more women are being admitted to law school than ever before, according to this article, some major problems remain.  For example, many students (both male and female) cite the problem of professors making sexist and demeaning comments.  However, the author of the article finds it very troubling that several male students in her sample expressed the view that those who complained about that sort of treatment just needed to grow up.  Another major problem is the fact that women are more likely than men to feel intimidated about voluntary contributing in class. 
I wanted to get a little more background about Title IX, so I found this website which gives a bit of an overview and history.  I also looked at some court cases dealing with the issue of higher education.  In particular, I found the case of Zimmerman v University of California-Berkeley really interesting.  In this case a mom who owned her own business wanted to go back to school to get her MBA at night.  She was told that moms were rejected for admission 100 percent of the time.  After she was rejected for a second time she sued, and ended up settling with the school.  I was really surprised that women still face discrimination like that in the admission process for higher education.  
Finally, on a slightly different note, I came across a bit of an article that I connected to Linda Christensen.  It is actually from a book on Google books, but the first few pages are really interesting.  The author opens her book by describing a situation she encountered with her daughter and an IKEA catalog.  Her daughter told her to look at a page in the catalog, and the author expected it to be another “provocative” ad such as the company had run several years ago of a gay couple shopping for a dining room set.  Instead it was pictures of a boy’s room, and a girl’s room.  The boy’s room showed that he was interested in technology and learning about the world.  The girl’s room was pink, frilly, full of stuffed animals, and reinforced every stereotype about little girls.  Just as Christensen demonstrates that Disney provides a “secret education” that reinforces stereotypes, this is true of almost any type of media.  As the video in class showed, advertising is a major way that this happens, as this example from an IKEA catalog demonstrates.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Extended Comments: Nick's Post

"Society:*Gives a curt nod to Wise before clearing his throat* Thank you. The American people respectfully deny your misinformed claim. We admit that there are some instances that might appear to be segregation, but we assure the court that it is not. Where parents choose to reside is their decision, and consequently, that is where their children enroll in school.  People are habitual, they return to their roots, make friends with people of the same social status and race as them, and then live near one another.  It is not due to any actions on the part of anyone else. It is their decision. There are no excuses. And blaming the white population at large of 'segregation' is an excuse.
(Above quote is by Wise)"

Nick’s blog was so cool I decided to use if for “extended comments”, in particular answering his question about what we should do to end segregation in schools.  I had heard about a lot of trouble that came about in regards to busing in Boston in the 1970s in an attempt to end segregation.  (Here is a Wikipedia link about it: ; while I am well aware that it is the much feared Wikipedia, I contend that this is a digital medium, and Wikipedia is a useful place to get a brief, decent overview of the idea.)  Basically the idea Nick is getting at and the issue about busing students was this: if a neighborhood is predominantly of one race causing the neighborhood school to be of that race, is that segregation? If so, what can be done to end it? 
As Bob Herbert points out, poor minority kids do a lot better when they go to schools of mostly white middle class kids.  Herbert doesn’t make this claim explicitly, but I think it can be inferred that the consequence of doing this will be that those poor minority kids will grow up to be successful adults of color.  Which is what everyone wants right? Kids of all races to grow up to be successful?
The argument against taking explicit measures to integrate schools is discussed by Nick, and the result of busing in Boston.  Don’t kids have a right to go to their neighborhood school? I want an integrated school, but I would pretty mad if I had to go from my home in Lincoln, to say South Kingstown to go to school every day.  Not only would the drive annoy me, but I wouldn’t be able to make local friends.  As a result, I think I would be pretty resentful, and as a result I would probably become a lot more racist.  It’s hard to say what the solution is here.