I’ve been in my placement this entire year at a special admit public high school in Philadelphia, which is great, as it has allowed me to watch and grow with the students in the two classes I work with. The school is highly-regarded, in Philadelphia and beyond, for its progressive, student-centered approach to teaching and learning. Specifically, I’ve been participating in two 9th grade African American history courses that have been covering an enormous amount of interesting material from present-day stereotypes of the African continent to the way cultural perceptions of race influenced and were influenced by laws relating to slavery to ways of making sense in and across societies.
This semester, my mentor teacher is using a special grant that she applied for and received to engage with her students in a special “Semester of Service.” The two classes are both in the process of learning, designing, and carrying out semester long service projects in the Philadelphia community and are striving to tie the work they do to Philadelphia history. I am extremely excited about this project because asset-based, meaningful service-learning is a big interest of mine and a great way, I think, for students to engage in conversations about race, class, privilege, and what it means to “help” people versus “collaborate and co-create” with them.
I’m coming away from reading Friere’s and Shor’s A Pedagogy for Liberation with three central themes I’d like to discuss further:
1) I thought the acknowledgement that “The right to have a small discussion begins as a class privilege” (p. 98) was really interesting, and sadly often true. The authors discussed this reality in terms of resources, ability to have small class sizes, etc. but I think this pedagogical reality is also a function of the false (or what I view to be false) notion that students have to “learn the basics first,” before they can converse and have rich, meaningful dialogues. I’d like to further discuss how this emphasis on promoting dialogue in the classroom can be used draw students in and engage them while also learning content and skills, as opposed to only coming as a privilege, after the fact.
2) I appreciated the concept that dialogue prompts the teacher to also engage in continuous learning: “Dialogue is the sealing together of the teacher and the student in the joint act of knowing and re-knowing the object of study” (p. 100). I agree that through dialogue, the teacher can learn just as much from as they teach to students—if done well. But I do wonder, is this a guarantee? Can a teacher successfully promote dialogue without being open to learning themselves? What are the implications of this?
I had a wonderful, thoughtful conversation with my friend last night—the one my last post referred to, in regards to his class background. I wanted to be upfront with him about the fact that I wrote about him for my class because I felt that, although my post was vague, he had the right to know that his experience was influencing me and was entering my thoughts and conversations. We ended up talking for close to an hour about what I had written and other related topics. Reflecting back on the openness and honesty of our talk, I have one nagging question that I keep asking myself: Why do I not feel comfortable having these same rich and important conversations with my upper middle class white friends?
In the last year or so, I have started to seek out individuals with whom I can talk through some of my immerging understandings of my own identity, background, etc. These friends are, almost without fail, either students of color, students of a different class background than my own, or other students who study education or who I know to be comparably as aware of their cultural identities, as I am. These conversations and the people I have them with stand, in my mind, in direct opposition to my closest friends who I live with. I live in a dorm with twenty other people, some of my closest friends, and I do not feel comfortable talking explicitly about race, class, culture, our identities—the assumptions we carry, etc. with them. (It should be noted that I primarily live with upper middle class white people).
Since the beginning of my sophomore year, I have worked extensively in Haverford’s Office of Admissions. My experience in these various roles and, in particular, my understanding of Haverford’s desire to attract and create a diverse student body—has led me to think much more critically about the types of supports we provide to students who actually enroll at Haverford. It is one thing to attract a diverse student body; it is another to support and cultivate that diversity.
In particular, one thing that really concerns me is Haverford’s lack of explicit support for first-generation college students and students coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Haverford has clear support systems in place for students of color, regardless of class background, including special weekends for prospective students, affinity clubs, etc. But I worry that a comparable system of support is lacking for low-income white students.
This issue first really came to the forefront for me when I learned that one of my friends was a first-generation college student. He and I had been casually playing tennis over the summer, talking about our families, when I first learned about his background and his journey to Haverford. I’m embarrassed to say that because of the way he dressed and acted, I had always just assumed he came from a comparable class background to my own.
Growing up in a primarily white, upper middle class community—I feel that my childhood could be understood as the “poster child” of white privilege, white obliviousness and white neutrality. For example, throughout my K-12 education, I had to participate in different “cultural events.” On one such occasion, I brought in shortbread (my grandmother’s recipe) to represent my Scottish heritage. But while my family made/ate this shortbread often and I do have Scottish blood in me, my Scottish (and English and German and Irish) ancestry in no way informs my day-to-day lived experience. At the time, I did not think twice about this “cultural” event; it was simply an opportunity to eat yummy food. Looking back, however, I wish my teachers had challenged me to capture and consider my actual culture.
Screen into the world
What pages are we all on?
Tools for creation
Power, access, tools
They are useless by themselves
Do you have the tools?
What blocks your pathway?
Barriers to creation
You make the meaning
I found the discussion of the poem "Cinderella" in class on Thursday extremely valuable, particularly in the small group discussions. My favorite part was discovering and discerning all of the initial "first readings" of the poem. For some, their first readings and imaginings followed the traditional fairy tale, for others the poem raised connotations sex trade and for me personally, I set the poem in a modern sense--thinking of the business world, cultural capital, etc.
As my group of three began devising a form of lesson plan, we kept circling back to these multiple readings. We decided then, that a great initial part of our lesson in a workshop would be to have everyone free write on the poem individually first, only later sharing their initial readings with a larger group. The purpose of this, while of course meaning to promote personal reflection, more importantly shows another example of multiliteracy.
By showing that people can interpret the same poem in so many different ways, within different contexts and deriving different meanings from it, eccentuates the point that people come from different backgrounds with different forms of literacy. I think that understanding and validating various interpretations of one story can help people in the process of learning to understand and validate various forms of literacy as well.
The component of my group project on Ghanaian children's literature that I found most provactive returned to the notion of identity that we have already touched on throughout the semester. In researching the growth of children's literature in Ghana, the same emphasis on the necessity of familiarity came up. For too long, Ghanaian children, if exposed to age-appropriate literature at all, were confronted with stories of white children, apples, rain and snow--stories that in no way related to their own experiences. The content was irrelevant to their lives. Beyond the simple misfortune of this fact, I am sure such books were entirely confusing as well.
I tried to convert this issue of identity and accuracy to my own life. But as a white, middle class girl, the content of the literature I read was never an issue. The characters looked like me, talked like me, lived in houses like me and even faced the same challenges I did. The stories I read as a child acted as an affirmation of my life, proof that my appearance and experiences were shared and "right."
I wonder then, just what the impacts of irrelevant literature have on children. On the one hand, as mentioned, I think the affirmation of experience is entirely important at a young age. On the other, exposure to other lifestyles is beneficial. Ultimately, I think it can be agreed upon that a mesh of both is ideal. Yet for too many children in Ghana this was not an option.
Exploring the exhibit “Image Africa” sparked the realization that I have in fact become an entirely critical academic. On the one hand, I was excited by the nature of exhibit—writing on the walls, participating in a focus group and generally enjoying the hands on experience truly engaged me in the exhibit and made me think far more actively about the content than I would during my typical museum visit. Yet I left “Imagine Africa” deeply confused. Just what they were trying to get at? It seems to me that the creators of the exhibit had failed to develop a clear conception of the purpose of the exhibit.
To me the title “Imagine Africa” conjures up images of the future, questions of what will Africa become.
For my fourth class this semester, an independent study with an anthropology professor revolving around the topics covered in the 360, I have explored in the last week a series of pieces of literature delving into the differences and paradoxes between oral-based cultures versus those that have developed systems of writing. Specifically, my studies started by looking at Jack Goody's theory on the "technology of writing" in which he essentially argues that societies that have developed a system of writing have created a new tool or "technology" which has enabled them to be cognitively more advanced. The argument has been widely critiqued and problematized and I think the literature in general raises some critically important, provoking ideas.
I will summarize here a few of the contentions I found most stimulating. The first is the presence of logic and the potential way writing enables various ideas and works from different authors and different times to be consolidated in a way that is more logical and thus helpful than what can be done via oral tradition only. A second contention is that of audience. Whereas oral tradition requires, at least seemingly, an audience, written works can be written and transmitted without knowledge of a specific audience. I find this idea particularly interesting because it feeds directly into a third point about variability. Written works are stagnant to a certain extent, copyright and authorial presentation are limited to the page, lacking change with time, speaker or audience.