Discussing language use particularly in the public education setting, I never feel fully comfortable with how I speak and my interaction with language within the classroom. This is relevant both for my method of speech in the classroom in college and also how I speak to students in the public school classrooms I work in. We all code-switch, speaking differently at work than to our friends than in the classroom. We learn in the classroom, as Lemke discusses, Standard English or “correct” or “proper” English as dictated by the dominant group in power and their normal speech patterns. Lemke pushes this concept to say that Standard English could be called Corporate English because not many if any people actually use this specific form of English in day to day life. In school students speak a variety of dialects of English, but are told that only is correct and are even graded on their ability to master Standard English. I struggle with speaking in a less formal way to students, which is something that I think puts myself and my students at ease, yet I worry about setting a “bad example” for later moments in which they are scrutinized over their method of speech. Working in almost 100% working-class African-American public schools, I constantly think about language and the way students use and interact with language in the classroom. I hear teachers make fun of and imitate students’ method of speech and constantly correct their students. I also see and feel the trust and respect students give to me when I speak in a form of English they feel more comfortable with.
I am so excited to be taking this class this semester. One of the things which really interested me about the class was the international perspective on literacy. As we touched on in our last class, it often feels as if we focus on issues primary to the United States. I find this in my sociology classes as well, that the major issues and topics are U.S. centric without an international perspective. In many ways it reminds me of Chimamanda Achide’s concept of a “single story.” I’m definitely not trying to say that we shouldn’t learn about issues in education or educational practices prevalent in the U.S. but especially as we become more dependent on digital literacy it’s important to know another story, a global story. To unpack that statement a little bit, allow me to explain. This class is relying heavily on what I would consider digital literacy. We are using resources such as Twitter and these blogs, Google docs, e-mail – all of these things are part of our digital literacy. Now, more and more people internationally are using these tools as well. I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit and have noticed that it is increasingly easy to stay in touch with people I meet abroad through the means of Facebook, etc. As difficult as it is for me to use Twitter and write a consistent blog, I do think that these are valuable tools which can really give us new perspectives on how education is changing and what education looks like outside of the U.S.
Throughout this first week of classes and the 360, one book keeps coming to mind as I have read the readings. In Teaching the Postcolony, we read a speech by Ivan Illich called “To Hell with Good Intentions,” which was a commentary about white middle class Americans going to “help” other countries. While I was reading it, I wondered how to reconcile this power relationship between middle class Americans and the Mexican population that the Americans were trying to help. Illich suggested that Americans go to study and enjoy new cultures instead of trying to help. An example came to mind from the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett on how to somehow equalize these relationships. The book is about a white woman in Mississippi in the 1960s writing stories about African American maids by interviewing them. When the white woman, Skeeter, asks Minny, one of the African American maids, to tell her stories for this book, Minny has the same reaction as Illich. She does not understand why a white woman of power and standing would want to write about African American maids. Minny completely disregards her good intentions to change attitudes and does not believe she can help at all. However, throughout the book, Minny and Aibileen both become close with Skeeter as they work on the stories of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi. These women who seem so different by society’s standards become friends who love and respect each other.
Check out this youtube!
This video immediately made me think of Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story.” As a homeschooler, I’ve encountered many of these questions (most of all, the pajama question). Although at times I liked getting attention for being an anomaly, overall, I felt very judged and limited by other people’s perceptions. I remember that, as a self-defense method, I would describe myself as “weird” so as to claim a description for myself rather than having it forced on me.
So this video was great. It didn’t capture my entire experience, but what I liked about it was that this guy – Blimey Cow – questioned certain beliefs merely by repeating them back. Rather than say outright, “homeschoolers are like this,” he repeats statements that might be said about us, as a sort of mirror effect. As if to say, “hmmm, did you really mean that?”
I love this word – debunking. “Let’s unpack that” – Let’s actually question those assumptions that we’ve accepted as realities. Because in order to truly respect other people, we must eliminate finite assumptions and be more open to complexities and details.
In Access, Identity, and Education – a course taught by Jody Cohen – we read an article by Martha Minow. This reading discussed the “Dilemma of Difference” (I couldn’t find the entire reading online, but here’s a quote: “The dilemma of difference may be posed as a choice between integration and separation, as a choice between similar treatment and special treatment, or as a choice between neutrality and accommodation”). From what I remember, Minow pointed out two problems with “difference” in the classroom: if teachers recognize that students are different, and meet their different needs differently, they run the risk of isolating some students. They might create a “different from” mentality – a separation between normal and different studdents. However, if teachers DON’T accommodate needs, some students may not get the treatment they require for learning.
Below is my response to a twitter convo that began with "What is a school?" and evolved into "How does a school bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences?"
Last semester I finished a course on the culture of poverty. It blew my mind when I realized that every race had a group of people that shared a culture that stemmed from poverty---one of survival, hopelessness, resourcefulness, the value of hardwork,and sufferings from marginalization.
Excited to read about poverty and the people who lived it, I dived right into readings from Oscar Lewis, who was an "expert" on the cultural traits of poverty, and Judith Goode, who defended and understood poor communities in contrast to Lewis. And so, through class discussions and readings, I was under the impression that I was "learning" because I was reading from scholars who dedicated their careers to observing and analyzing poverty.
It wasn't until I was well into writing papers for the course using these sources did I finally stop and say to myself, "I know firsthand what poverty and its culture is like, why must I have old, white-privilaged scholars who never lived it validate my experiences in my paper?" To my frustration, I was learning things I had known all along. If anything, I was the expert.
Which brings me to an answer of the question: How can schools bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences? Well, we must change the structure of our schools by making the external experiences of the students the focus of the classroom.
Titagya Web site http://titagyaschools.org/wordpress/
Leslie Dodson, Don't misrepresent Africa.
Chimamanda Adiche, The danger of a single story. http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
A resource: the blog for the partnership between Titagya Schools and the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program.
From the Titagya blog,
This web page is designed as a place to collect and generate ideas, experiences, and connections useful to developing a partnership between the Titagya program to build preschools and kindergartens in Northern Ghana and the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program, at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. To begin, the partnership is focusing on exploring cross-cultural curriculum development, with a focus on the themes of conflict resolution and the role of creativity, interaction, and play in learning.
We will not be actively contributing to this blog in ED250, but it is still a repository of learning from Bi-Co students in past Education classes.