Sunday, October 26, 2014

"The Silenced Dialogue", Delpit Revisited

In the hunt for five quotes to pull from Lisa Delpit's extraordinary piece, I could find none more suiting than her five rules and codes of power that she lists clearly on page 24 of her article. The first quote being: "Issues of power are enacted in classrooms." This is something I certainly agree with, as in my service learning I have witnessed such powers be exposed whilst in the classroom setting. Most prominently, you are able to see the power the teacher demonstrates over the students. This power is something that appears to be contested more and more as students rise from elementary school, to middle to high, however the fact remains that while in the classroom, the teacher is indeed the one with the power. Think about it, they preside and instruct a class of sometimes 15-20+ students at any given time, and expect that when students come into school in September, they come with this knowledge that they are expected to obey, and file into this basic rule and code of power prevalent in the school system.
     The second quote from Delpit is: "There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a 'culture of power'". Delpit's reference to to this culture of power is referring again to the people who are in these positions of power, be that politicians, police officers, or even teachers. In order for these individuals to contain and remain in this culture of power, they need to abide by certain codes or rules that allow them to be in it in the first place, more specifically, ways of communication. The way we communicate is our portal into the mind of another human. We probe for answers, opinions, guidance and more from other beings, and these codes of power include being articulate and precise with what we say and how we say it, and the same principle again can be applied on a personal note to my service learning experience thus far. Being in an elementary school, the presence of a teacher is always massive in the classroom, halls, cafeteria and office, and the way they communicate their rules and rituals to the students are always clear and precise, so that potentially one day, a select few of those students may be admitted to this culture of power that Delpit so often seems to refer to.
    Delpit's third 'rule' states: "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power." This is the rule where Delpit and I tend to disagree. This rule suggests that the children with a middle-to-upper class upbringing will naturally do better in school, as opposed to students who are in a lower class upbringing, because the culture of power is designed for people only in that middle-to-upper class category. I disagree, and in fact believe that the culture of power is slowly shifting more and more into the lower classes favor. We look at ethnically diverse schools across the country, and see the percentage of each race in the school, how many students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and how they may perform learning-wise. Remarkably, in my own personal service learning experiences, the students I have worked with and met have confided that they aren't wealthy by any means, yet their grades show that they are doing remarkably well, some even doing better than kids with that middle class upbringing. While students in that middle class upbringing may be given more of the tools to use to be successful in school, it does not necessarily mean they use them. How does that old phrase go again? "You can lead a horse to water."
     The fourth rule states: "If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier." This easily ties into schooling, in the sense that when children are told something directly and with confidence, they will abide by it. For example, if  eight-year old Sally is misbehaving in class, and Mrs. Johnson says: "Sally, can you please try to focus on what we are doing instead of making a mess on your desk?" It does not seem effective, especially to a student at such a young age. Sally will continue making a mess on her desk, and Mrs. Johnson will begin developing a migraine. However, if Mrs. Johnson had said: "Sally, clean that mess up and pay attention to what we are doing, otherwise you are going for a time out." Sally immediately cleans her mess and pays attention. Why was the second method more effective? The ability to communicate directly and clearly with the student shows authority, and allows for structure to build.
     Finally, the last rule states: "Those with power are frequently less aware of--or least willing to acknowledge--it's existence. Those with less power are often more aware of it's existence." Once again to apply this to a classroom setting, the teacher rarely will say: "listen to me because I am the powerful one in this room." MOST OF THE TIME, you will hear the STUDENT say: "you have to listen to her, she's the teacher!" They have recognized that there is a certain standard of power that has been established, and that they are the ones without power. This rule has always been remarkable to me since I first read Delpit, because it was never something I truly thought about. When I led my high school band as a Drum Major for two years, I never thought of myself in a position of power, but simply acted in my position of power. I am sure President Obama doesn't go to bed each night (well at least most nights) saying how he is the most powerful man in the world, he simply just goes and attempts to do the job he's elected to do.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"In the Service of What?" Reflection

     I simply had to choose the option of writing my response as a reflection due to the fact that I am currently involved in numerous service learning projects, and have the opportunity to discuss them in conjunction with Kahne and Westheimer's text. I thought it very interesting how they explained service learning to be a way to "improve the community, invigorate the classroom, [and provide] rich, educational experiences for students at all levels of schooling." (pg 2) I fully agree with statement, and can say that it is truly a rewarding experience being able to watch children grow and develop as if they were your own students for that small portion of the week you are there. Being in this setting, and walking into the school each week, being able to perform in a different role or capacity rather than just as a student, is something fresh and exciting.
     Looking at this from a different viewpoint, for the past 13-14 years, we have been molding ourselves into products of the schooling system. We were the proverbial sponges soaking up the knowledge that our teachers would lay in front of us each day, so to have the experience of being able to essentially flip that around is rewarding. It is almost our way of being able to give back to the profession that made us who we are today. It also allows us to open our eyes to another side of schooling, such as was the case with one of the service learning cases discussed in the article, in particular Mr. Johnson's case, where one of his students for their project worked in a center for babies whose mothers had high levels of crack-cocaine in their bloodstreams during pregnancy. That would be an extremely different experience from my own of course, as I am dealing with young children, but at the same time there could be similarites. I am unsure of how many of the children I deal with could come from a family who have had issues or problems such as these. It is interesting to think about the comparisons and how this project could in some ways relate to my own.
     This article also focuses a lot on the differences between the moral and political aspects of service learning, and how the two can coincide with one another. I do believe that both categories certainly have a place in education, the moral side being the teachers personal connection with the students they have, and the political side there to make sure that personal connection doesn't get too personal. What I mean by this is that by having these two codes of power (which ironically fit into Delpit's concept of the Culture of Power), we have a balanced learning environment. This politcal domain, as our authors call it, allow students the opportunity to learn in a democratic environment, and not be tethered by personal connection.
     These service learning experiences are very rewarding to everyone that has the opportunity to participate in it. They can teach life-learning lessons, and give inspiring teachers the opportunity to have a small taste of what being a teacher truly entails.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us

Linda Christensen has penned quite an interesting read with this 2003 article that delves into the controversy not only surrounding the inequalities of race and sex, but how these inequalities can be traced back to cartoons, and how the mass media played a pivotal role in shaping and manipulating the minds of children. I found this particular article to be very interesting, because I think I can speak for a majority of the US population when I say that many of us grew up watching cartoons.
Cartoons were the pinnacle of every Saturday morning in my household. I would always wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed to turn the TV on promptly at 8am to where I would be graced by the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other rambunctious characters that made any five year old's Saturday special. However, at an age now where I can look back at certain cartoons such as these, and going through the various topics we are currently discussing, it turns my mind on for analysis and discussion, wanting to poke at the meaning behind the characters, the roles they played, and how this can tie into reality. I truly enjoyed Christensen's viewpoint of how media can truly sculpt the minds of the young so easily. A piece of the article I truly enjoyed came on page 128: "Many students don't want to believe that they have been manipulated by children's media or advertising. They assure me that they make their own choices, and that the media has no power over them--as they sit with Fubu, Nike, Timberlands, or whatever the latest fashion rage might be." I believe this is such a crucial point; it shows that the students truly believe that they aren't manipulated by the media, but they are wearing the latest fashions advertised by it! When we truly think on it, the media is one of the most influential communicators in the known world today. Everything from cartoons, to commercials, movies and the news are broadcasting 24/7. It is truly a phenomenon, how we allow the media into our homes on a daily basis for entertainment and information. It also shows the influence it has upon us. Most children these days are glued to the TV screen, looking for their favorite shows or films. The media, whether we would like to recognize it or not, plays a massive role in our daily lives, and has molded many of us into the people we are today. We take obscure social cues or hints from watching movies, or attempt to replicate an act only a superhero or secret agent could perform. This idea of mass media, especially today in 2014, has definitely taken over many of our lives. Even looking at students on our own campus at RIC, almost everyone you see walking by is on their phone or laptop, browsing Facebook or texting, or just looking for the dress they saw someone else in about 10 minutes prior. This ties into Christensen's main point(s), how we need to take action to prevent this from happening, otherwise this mass media will become part of Lisa Delpit's idea of culture of power, or will become a "safe space" for some looking to get away from life, such as Gerri August describes. The media is a powerful weapon, one that can mold the minds of anyone watching. We, as a people, need to learn to control it, and not have it control us. TV, especially from the 20th Century can certainly establish gender and race roles in a way that would be unacceptable by today's standards. When we think back to cartoons, we must take up Christensen's points: are there female characters; are there non-white characters' what roles do they play; are they important to the story; are they looked upon as different? All of these questions play a key factor in how cartoons have been shaped over the years. Think back to shows like "Bugs Bunny" or "Tom & Jerry". Were there black or female characters? Many a time, Bugs Bunny would actually dress in drag, and while this got a massive laugh (from myself included), it shows a stereotypical representation of Drag Queens or even women in general. There was a male character portraying the female. Again, I believe this also ties into numerous points Christensen has made. The changes cartoons have brought about over the years constantly are trying to adapt with the ever changing reality we find ourselves in, and not just cartoons but media as well. The more updated media becomes, the less manipulated I believe we will become.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

August's "Safe Spaces"

     Dr. Gerri August, currently a member of the Rhode Island College faculty, has penned a very straightforward and concise read regarding the many issues that the LGBT community faced at the time this article was written, and continue to face today.The article breaks down some of the key reasons as to why there is such a struggle with the tremendous outpouring of individuals who now identify as LGBT, or who always has identified as LGBT, and have had concerns with coming out. August's article breaks down two key components that go into making this situation a hassle for everyone: curriculum & communication.
     The curricula currently used in classrooms today, especially in classrooms in the 20th Century, reflect a classic point of view on the LGBT community, where the topic simply is not discussed. Page 85 of August's article states: "...the traditional curriculum typically ignores the experiences or contributions of LGBT people." This is a sad point to think upon, due in part of the fact that there is so much that LGBT people have indeed contributed to our society. The amount of progress made today shows perseverance and determination, and the will to go on. Currently, there are 19 states in the United States that allow and have legalized same-sex marriage; a remarkable achievement thinking how at one point, the LGBT community could not even identify themselves as such. Back to the topic of schooling, even the years I was in middle and high school, I was fully aware that there was an LGBT community, however, the subject of sexual orientation was never formally taught in classes. At my high school however, there was a club called the Gay-Straight Alliance which allowed kids who may or may not have identified themselves as LGBT to come and talk in a safe and welcoming environment. Very slowly, we can begin to see that the LGBT community becomes more and more accepted in the world today. That being said, we cannot at the same time neglect the parts of the world that wish not to respect the lifestyle. It can be this disrespect or hostility toward the topic that can cause a number of things, including bullying, self-consciousness, and suicide. A short statistical article posted in 2013 shows that about 30% of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis. It also shows that people who identify as LGBT are more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe in the environment they are in. This again ties to curriculum, and gives the possibility that maybe if the subject was given more thought and attention in schools nationwide and worldwide, that the LGBT community would be more accepted and feel more comfortable in a school environment.
     Something that truly struck me about the topic of communication was the story of young Marcus, who was given a trip to the principal's office as well as an in-school suspension for using the word "gay" to describe his parents. He was not using this term in a derogatory manner, but instead to describe that he has two moms. I was astounded by this, as the teacher then said "I feel that parents should explain things of this nature to their own children in their own way." I immediately was drawn back to Rodriguez' Aria, and how he was continuously told to speak English in class, and how his parents needed to help him develop this skill. The teacher essentially cuts the student off from being honest or truly thinking critically, which should not be allowed. Communication is one of the most powerful tools a human being has, as words are some of the most powerful conveyors of feeling and emotion. Tying back to the LGBT community, there needs to be more effective communication in schools between teachers and students on the topic of sexual orientation, and how it can have an affect on the daily life of an individual who identifies as LGBT. If the subject was looked at more carefully and with more compassion, we will begin to realize that everyone is equal, love is equal, and there are no bounds when it comes to gender. We cannot fall into certain social conventions and stigmas that disallow LGBT people the right to love to. We must work toward the prevalence of this community, and make this truly a free and equal country to live in, and while I myself do not fall into this LGBT category, I believe in equality and fairness for all.