This semester, my two field placements are non-traditional in the sense that they are not observational, but spaces in which I take on a role as a tutor or mentor to young students, which can be a daunting responsibility. One of my placements is at Oliver Elementary School, working with several members of Bryn Mawr’s Art Club to teach art lessons to 1st and 5th grade students in a school where funding for arts programs was cut years ago. The student coordinators plan and teach the lessons, and I, as one of several teaching assistants, supervise and help students with their projects once they’ve gotten their materials and directions.
The focus of the curriculum that the Bryn Mawr coordinators have planned this semester is art as a profession, in a variety of fields. We have done projects that have put the kids in the shoes of advertisers, fashion designers, and, this week, cartographers. Miss Rose, as the kids call the student coordinator in Mrs. Dryer’s classroom, started the lesson with projections of several pictures of maps, of varied scale and magnitude. One was immediately familiar to me, and likely the rest of the classroom. The Mercator world map is something that we take for granted, having seen it, like Mrs. Dryer’s 5th graders, early and often. We don’t stop to call it into question, because why would we? The world is the world is the world. How could literally millions of people be wrong about something so fundamental?
Annette Lareau’s research for her book “Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life,” while obviously noteworthy and perhaps groundbreaking two decades ago, does pose some problems as we look at it today. Her choices to include certain participants and exclude others seem to be based solely on whether they could help her check off several boxes that she prescribed for her study. She needed to have a selection of cases where each child was a unique mix of two possibilities for gender, race, and class. This method made it easy for Lareau to classify middle class families into a tactic of concerted cultivation, and working and lower class families into the strategy of accomplishment of natural growth. This is frustrating, because it seems to be much too narrow of a focus, much too literally black and white to really presume to be truly applicable to the larger population. By ignoring factors outside of the strict dichotomy of lower/working and middle class and white and Black, Lareau limits the amount of significance that can be extrapolated from her work.
Table of Contents
1.Leaving the Bagel on the Dashboard, or a first lesson in self-sufficiency (Pre-School)
2. Calling my 2nd Grade Teacher Torica, or adventures in progressive elementary school (Pre-K–2)
3.The Oregon Trail, or exploring and loving public school (3-5)
4. Volleying, or let’s just not talk about it (6-7)
5. Losing Letters, or how to memorize a sonnet (8)
6. Stay Cool, Soda Pop, or how to stop crying over physics tests (9-12)
7. The Best Years of Your Life, or coming home to Bryn Mawr (Present)
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When I first heard that we were going to be doing final activism projects for this 360 instead of just a term paper or something straightly academic, I was thrilled. I feel as though I left our classroom spaces often unsure of myself or of what to make of what had just been said, and at the same time, feeling as though it had been made abundantly clear just how much work we need to do in the world to make it fairer and more just. In trying to keep myself in touch with the larger picture and the bigger world around me, I often remind myself that I’m just a tiny little piece of an enormous universe full of people, stories, history, happiness, injustices, triumphs and mistakes. But sometimes, this keeps me from feeling as though what I do has much impact at all. I worry that my efforts will not reach far enough, won’t attract enough attention, or won’t be effective. As much as I love being involved as an activist on and off campus, and try to do so as much as possible, I do sometimes feel as though it’s not enough. Throughout this class experience, though, it’s been reinforced for me that it really isn’t about me, or my comfort, or my self-esteem. I can’t use my lack of confidence or fear that my actions will lack efficacy as an excuse to shy away from doing my best, or feeling like the work that I’ve already done or plan to do has purpose and a positive impact.
Several people drew a faceless person as their image of a prisoner in our first drawing exercise. While we certainly aren’t faceless, there is no one image that fits every person, incarcerated or not.
I was really intrigued this past week by Jen Rajchel's visit, especially the silent exercise that she led us in, "Tattoo Parlor". It was a really cool way to learn more about Sasha, and to think about what kind of visual image would best represent her, and so I enjoyed it from a playful (ha) perspective. But I also think that it correlates more fully to my ideal of silence--one in which you spend time actively listening to another person, to music, to the world around you--and not so much focused just on not talking. I don't mean to say that I think the silences that we have started (or ended, in some cases) our class with have not been valuable, just that I appreciate that we are moving beyond the notion that everyone must refrain from speaking for it to be a "real" silent activity.
My word this week from our exercise at the Cannery was "listen". I really value it when others actively listen to me, and I am working on becoming the best listener that I can be, with my friends, family, the larger world (BMC and otherwise), and even myself, and listening to my own needs. I really enjoyed the teaching exercise that my group planned in Jody's class on Thursday, encouraging people to partner up and listen silently while another person told a story about their adolescence. These kinds of exercises can help us all become better listeners, and truly engage in what our partner is saying, similar to in the Tattoo Parlor game.
This is Sharon Wiggins, a lifer who we were told by some of the women in the Cannery has now been released. This photo by Howard Zehr really captured my attention, and made me question how incarcerated men and women adapt to, and are even able to do introspective reflection in their prison environments.
I wondered, after visiting the Cannery on Friday and discussing the level of privacy (or lack thereof) that the women feel there in terms of where they can find a silent moment for themselves. On the Bryn Mawr side, we discussed having semi-chaotic shared spaces, where roommates and friends keep us from having constant silence--which is often a good thing! But I do know that I often appreciate a little time to myself, a niche, if you will, where I can be silent and on my own, without those outside forces and people (which I usually enjoy and appreciate) coming into my space. I wonder how the women of the Cannery feel about this--would they like more "me" time, where they could be silent and alone? Is sacrificing that privilege just par for the course with being in prison? Of course, my "me" time doesn't take into account the time that I enjoy being silent with other people, so is that something of a substitute for alone time in the walls of a prison? Do group quiet activities like reading or praying take the place of a silent, solitary niche?
As I've been reading Sweeney, I've been seeing some parallels to Haney's work in the Visions and Alliance facilities, in terms of how penal institutions try (and sometimes fail) to regulate women's desires, and what they feel like they need. In Visions and Alliance, it was obviously a very flawed system, despite the fact that it was an "alternative to incarceration", and the directors of the program seemed to want to shape what the women wanted extensively. In the more traditional prisons that Sweeney writes about, the main regulation of desire is over books--especially, as I've read, over the women's complex and diverse desire or lack thereof for urban fiction, which prison librarians try to unify to fit what their rules are for keeping urban fiction on the shelves.
Is anyone else making this connection? What are your thoughts?
On another note, if anyone would like to borrow my book before Tuesday, let me know!
I was really struck while reading Doing Life this week, especially Tyrone Werts' assertion that the criminal justice system is something akin to slavery--we can oppose certain elements of it, like the death penalty, as cruel and unusual punishment, but we are complicit in allowing the whole, flawed system to continue. I have always considered myself very against the death penalty, since I think it is entirely inhumane and torturous, as well as hypocritical. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and so on. I'd always just figured that the better alternative was to keep someone imprisoned for a life sentence, where they wouldn't be able to get out and commit another heinous crime, but where they would have a chance to continue their lives and better themselves. Tyrone Werts complicates this for me. Is it really ever okay to lock someone up and throw away the key for the rest of their life? I am still fully against the death penalty, and hope to work to see it repealed in all states across the US, but maybe more attention should also be paid to an anti-life sentence movement--as we have seen, it is an incredibly damaging and often unfair practice, almost as much so as the death penalty is.