Sunday, February 27, 2011

Legal Issues In Schools Regarding Students Sexual Orientation

I read an interesting article on the GLSEN website entitled, “Dealing With Legal Matters Surrounding Students’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”.  I found the legal issues to actually be quite fascinating.  The article addressed such issues as what educators should do if students/parents object to the formation of a GSA, or if it is legal to have dress codes for male and female students.  I was surprised to find out that these questions are more subjective than I originally thought.  For example, I was surprised to find out that a school actually can enforce separate dress codes if the school can prove that not doing so would interfere with learning, and that whether or not it is considered interference actually has a lot to do with the community the school is in.
 As I was looking for more information about these legal issues I came across an article written by Louis P. Nappen which explains the phenomenon of creating separate high schools for LGBTQ students.  ( )  I couldn’t believe that there were such schools, but it turns out that there actually is one in New York City, Harvey Milk High School.  I found some videos made by students and alumni (here is one: .  I’m quite conflicted about whether schools like this one are a good idea.  One the one hand, students choose to attend these schools, and from their testimony in these videos seem to consider a high school like this one to be their salvation.  It protects them from being tortured by intolerant students throughout their highs school experience.  On the other hand, it doesn’t teach tolerance when all students who are considered “different” are shuttled off to a separate school.  I can say from my own experience that I became a more accepting person as a result of having a friend who was gay while I was in high school. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Social Justice Event: "A Doll's House"

            This past Sunday I attended the play, A Doll’s House at the Gamm Theater in Pawtucket.  (Here are some pictures from the show: .)   I knew that I would be going to the play a few weeks ago, so when I saw it reviewed in the Providence Journal I was happy to see that it was very well received.  (This is the review:  It was actually quite beneficial to have seen this because it alerted me to the fact that this was going to be slightly different than the A Doll’s House I had read in high school and again in Western Lit.  This version was set in the 1950s (specifically 1959) and the original script had been adapted to make the dialogue have a more contemporary American sound. 
            The adaptation of the play was excellent, and it also made the show even more meaningful as a social justice event.  It was more relevant to our society today.  After the show the group I was with (from RIC) was able to talk to the actors and ask questions.  I was curious why the 1950s were chosen as the era to set the adaptation.  Tony Estrella, the artistic director who did the adaptation, told me that he chose this time period because this was the time that everyone looks back to when they think of the perfect American family, but he wanted to show that that ideal has never really existed.  After our discussion in class today, I am reminded of Richard Rodriguez’s description of his family in Aria.  Several people talked about how Rodriquez needed to learn English in order to fit this mold.  Sadly, it seems that while the Rodriquez’s spoke only Spanish to each other they actually were more like the ideal family; it was only when they became Americanized (by learning English) that they actually became more typical, but less happy. 
            A Doll’s House is generally considered a feminist play (if anyone is unfamiliar with the storyline, you can check it out here: and setting it immediately before the women’s lib movement makes it even more so.  I could relate elements of this play to a couple of the authors we have read that discussed women’s rights in their articles.  Peggy McIntosh for example, who is a scholar in the field of Women’s Studies, writes that, “Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women’s disadvantages.  These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened, or ended” (McIntosh 1).  Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband, is a perfect example of a man in denial of male privilege.  He acknowledges that women have a place (in the home), showing that he feels himself superior, but he is also the recipient of unearned advantages.  For example, keeping women out of the work force makes it much easier for him to rise to the position of bank manager.  
            Allan Johnson is another author who discusses various types of privilege.  Johnson offers a perspective on privilege as not the way one person treats another, but as the way our whole social system operates.  “It’s not that I’ve done something or thought bad thoughts or harbored ill will toward her because she’s black and female.  No, the problem is that in the world as it is, huge issues involving race and gender shape her life and mine in dramatically different ways” (Johnson 8).  Johnson would consider Torvald Helmer’s behavior toward his wife as not just the acts of jerk, but problems with the system.  Helmer did not wake up one morning and decide to devalue his wife; he was raised in a system that said it was OK to behave that way.  As educators we have part of the responsibility of raising children to believe that it is not acceptable to devalue others.           

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Argument in "Aria"

ARGUMENT: In the article “Aria” Richard Rodriquez makes a complex argument. On the one hand he expresses sadness about the slow death of his “private language” (Spanish), and the changes it brought to his family.  On the other hand, Rodriquez explains that even though this is a sad situation, it was necessary in order for him “to believe what had been technically true since my birth: I was an American citizen.”  Rodriquez expresses sorrow about the necessity of giving up much of what made his private language so wonderful, but he believes it was a good thing that his teachers forced him into speaking English.  Otherwise, he argues, he would not have been a confident part of the society in which he lived.  Rodriquez is critical of school programs that do not force children to assimilate, saying “bilingualists simplistically scorn the value and necessity of assimilation” (38).  Rodriquez argues that while children do give up something in order to master the dominant language, doing so gives them ownership of the dominant culture.    

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kozol Talking Point

Quotes: Choose three quotes from the text and explain what they mean and their relevance to the text.
“At the elementary school that serves the neighborhood across the avenue, only seven of 800 children do not qualify for free school lunches. ‘Five of those seven,’ says the principal, ‘get reduced-price lunches, because they are classified as only ‘poor,’ not ‘destitute’.” (Kozol 3) 
Even though I read this quote a couple of days ago now, this quote has really stuck with me; I realized that the two remaining kids who don’t qualify for assistance are probably siblings.  That would mean that one family in a school of eight hundred is considered wealthy enough to be able to feed their children without government assistance.  What that kind of poverty must do to the climate of a school is unimaginable to me.  I don’t know how I would even begin to teach a class where every single student didn’t know where there next meal was coming from.  This quote vividly illustrates the destitute demographics of the neighborhood Kozal is describing. 
“The bed is covered with blood and bandages from someone else.  Flowers are scattered on the floor.  Toilet’s stopped with toilet paper.  Bed hasn’t been made.  I’d been through this once before.  Either you wait for hours until someone cleans the room or else you clean the room yourself.” (Kozol 15)  Mrs. Washington’s description of her hospital room turned my stomach in disgust.  I’d read about conditions like this before – in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns when the main characters seek medical treatment immediately after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.   This description of a hospital makes Kozol’s argument crystal clear: the conditions many of the poor of New York live in are inhumane and morally reprehensible.  No matter who someone is, what they have done, or how poor they are, there is absolutely no justification for conditions like this.  Poverty might be unavoidable, but conditions like this have no excuse. 
“Some of these houses are freezing in the winter.  In dangerously cold weather, the city sometimes distributes electric blankets and space heaters to its tenants.  In emergency conditions…the city’s practice, according to Newsday, is to pass out sleeping bags.” (Kozol 4)
This quote further demonstrates the inhumanity that many of the poor are subjected to.  Kozol does not argue in this article that those in poverty are entitled to any extraordinary luxuries; instead he pleads that the poor have the right to basic necessities: clean, safe homes, food to eat, medical care when necessary, and security as they go about their daily lives.  Many of these things are not being provided, and it is a travesty.