Walking in Someone Else’s Moccasins

In her teaching, Jane Elliott wanted to “put her students in another’s moccasins”, or another’s shoes (Frontline, 1985). Her reasoning was that you can’t truly understand another person’s pain until you experience what they are experiencing, and although they had been talking about racism in class, talking about and experiencing are two different ways of learning. Howard wrote about “responses that heal” in his essay on racism in America: facing reality was at the top of his list (Howard). I think that Elliott’s lesson was an excellent lesson in facing reality for these kids. They were told one day that they would be judged based on the color of their eyes, with each group having the chance to be the dominant group (Frontline, 1985). The kids all were able to experience how it felt to be on top, and how it felt to be on bottom. Each one, though they had heard about discrimination and had discussed it, had never truly experienced what it was. Now they had, and I think it really helped them with their perceptions later in life.

As educators, I think it is important for us to really drive home lessons in diversity with students. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of using real-life experiences and activities to make learning stick, to make it meaningful. The same idea applies for lessons on values, including how to treat others as human beings. I think watching the video of Elliott’s classroom was particularly inspiring, as we got to see how her lessons had a lasting effect on her students. Stepping into the shoes of someone on the “bottom” of their society truly had a major impact on the way they saw the world. There is an important lesson to be learned from this: a single lesson based within the perspective of others can help shape individuals into strong, compassionate people who are more understanding of the prejudices of the world.

Howard, G. (1996). Whites in multicultural education: Rethinking our role. Banks, J. A., Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, & action. New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University

Peters, W. (1985). A class divided. Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=frol02s42cq66&continuous=1

Observance of Sacred Festivals and Meaningful Education

During class this week, one of the topics we discussed was “Educational Means”. The one I felt was the most important (at least to me), was the idea of “Observance of Sacred Festivals.” We discussed powerful ways to impact students in our classes, aside from just learning about a subject. This is important to me, because as a child (and even as an adult), I struggled remembering the things I was supposed to remember about one subject or another unless I interacted with it. As a teacher, I want to bring education to my students in a way that they find accessible and fun, so that not only do they remember what they are learning, but they do so in a way that a deep sense of how and why are instilled in them. I want my teaching to be meaningful, and not just another check in a box of things they should be taught.

We discussed examples of holidays that are required to be taught in school; for example, Martin Luther King Jr. day, and Veteran’s day. These two holidays in particular are holidays I never particularly cared about. We had assemblies, I got the days off, and that was it. But as I got older, I came to appreciate the meaning of these holidays a little more, and I wish that my younger self could appreciate them as well. Ways we discussed to make these more meaningful were to have candlelit ceremonies for active duty military, which the kids bring in; or have the kids put on the assembly. These activities have the students doing the planning and explaining and learning.

I think the same thing could be said for other holidays as well. Thanksgiving is a major American holiday that most people associate with food, turkeys, and pumpkin pie. But why? It is one thing to say that Thanksgiving is about bounty and sharing, being grateful and kind. It is another thing entirely to bring this holiday to life with joy journals (a record of things that brought you happiness every day for a few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving), compliment posters for each student in class (from the other students to show why they are grateful to each other), or having a day of outreach where the entire class goes on a field trip to bring their pre-made thank-you cards to a community member, or even just people within the school. These kinds of activities where students participate in their own learning are what create meaningful thoughts, values, and learning.

Are holidays the only things we can celebrate in this fashion? Personally I believe that everything can be taught this way. A lesson about alpine meadows can be compounded by a field trip into the mountains, or a science lesson on force can be accompanied by the class building a trebuchet. My high school was conducted in this way, actually. We took field trips to museums, the Port of Seattle, our local city hall (during elections), the waste water treatment facility, the mountains to see glaciers and take soil samples. We built machines, created biodiesel (which we then presented to the school board as an alternative fuel source for our buses), volunteered and did job shadows. A large part of what we did was finding primary sources, so we also did a lot of contacting people who worked in a specific area of inquiry to find answers, opinions, and information we weren’t even looking for. These experiences not only helped shape my learning, but they also prepared me for much of what I had to deal with in the world outside of school. When I do have my own classroom, this is the kind of teacher I would like to be; one who provides interactive experiences, and allows her students to design their own learning (while subtly directing it). I think the best way to learn something is to discover it yourself, and while memorizing multiplication tables is also very important, I think supplementing teaching with hands-on experiences is what makes a quality teacher.

The Six Pillars of Civic and Moral Education

This week in class, we discussed the “architecture of moral education”, and the six pillars that hold up what we value in terms of our rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These pillars are what the education committee wanted to instill in K-12 education in order to create a democratic American society. Service, honesty, civility, kindness, participation, and commitment all support our rights for speech, assembly, religion, and life.

In an elementary school classroom, I think that all of these cardinal values should be taught on a day-to-day basis, rather than in a single lesson. We can think of it as a lesson plan for the year, actually. Kindness should be praised and encouraged every day. Students should be given opportunities to collaborate and work together, sharing ideas and helping each other figure something out. In two of the classes I tutor (third and fourth grade), the teacher allows time for table groups or table partners to work together on their math. The teams put together factor arrays cooperatively, and help identify mistakes or correct answers for each other. This is excellent team-building skills that the kids will need later in school and in life.

Commitment is another thing I think should be encouraged every day. Students (especially struggling ones) often tend to give up when something is too difficult. I think it is up to the teacher to stay with them and make sure these students are challenged, but they should be challenged at the level they are at, rather than at a level high above their own. Students need to be shown how their hard work can pay off. In an elementary classroom, this can be done with charts that the students create themselves, or posters they create to show their cumulative knowledge of a unit. If they can hold tangible evidence of their own success, I think it will create a sense of pride and accomplishment within the student that will allow them to bring more commitment to the work they do.

Another pillar is civility, or obedience, with the idea that students who are raised to respect their society will become fair and democratic citizens. Again, I believe this should be taught every day, and never explicitly. I know from experience teaching preschool that telling a student that they need to follow the rules, and actually having students that follow the rules are two separate things. Being a role model for respecting and listening is, as I have found, far more effective in teaching students civility. However, I also believe that it is important to praise good listening and good behavior.

In a year-long lesson plan, it is important to provide many opportunities for students to volunteer or somehow service their community. Even in young children, it is something we can promote early, if students are given the chance. A second grade classroom might have field trips where they pick up trash in a park, meanwhile learning about pollution and how waste affects the environment. They could also work on their reading skills in a nursing home, reading letters or books, or writing skills in creating valentine’s cards for the same people. Older kids can brainstorm ideas on their own for bringing their own particular talents to their community, and might come up with ways to raise money or awareness, help clean up the environment, bring companionship for people who may not have it, and many other methods of community service.

The last pillar is honesty. Valuing trust is an important step in a democratic society, since it is important for the people to trust one another and their political leaders. In an elementary classroom, it is sometimes difficult to determine when a student is lying about one thing or another. As teachers, we see how some lies can affect others, or the student’s own success. In some cases, I think this goes back to teaching commitment and a good work ethic: lying about an assignment will not let a student succeed. Allowing them to chart and monitor their own success may help to teach them that lying about an assignment may not be their best move. On the other hand, lying about a person or lying to them can hurt them. We, as teachers, can help them talk out why they lied and show how feelings were hurt, but I think that often the bigger picture doesn’t really get across their minds, especially in young kids. So how do you teach honesty as an object lesson? Kids seem to think that lying about something can change the truth of it somehow. If you say you didn’t do it, then you didn’t! Even though you did…Teaching honesty in a more concrete way could be a very valuable lesson, and can be done multiple times throughout the year (and even at home). I read about some interesting ideas involving putting salt on ice cream and covering it up with chocolate (does the “chocolate lie” really cover up the taste of the salt?) or other objects that allow students to use their senses to discover the truth.

Again, I think it is very important to keep each of these cardinal values in mind during classroom time throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be specific lessons for each value that explain what it is and why it is important.

Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions and their Effect on Classrooms

Exploring Hofstede’s website about cultural differences and “dimensions” was very interesting. Briefly, he describes four dimensions (power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity) in which various cultures have strong beliefs, resulting in different behaviors. While I was reading the definitions of Hofstede’s dimensions, I made guesses about where the US scored. My guesses were as follows:

  • Power distance: I predicted that the US would be lower than halfway, but not lower than a quarter. This is because it seems that on the surface, the US does a lot to avoid emphasis on racial, class, sexual, and gender differences. However, we have also seen evidence of systematic, unacknowledged behavior and patterns that indicate this is not true. My guess for this dimension was correct.
  • Individualism: This one was easy—I predicted that the US would score very high on this scale, as we are a very egocentric society, especially when compared to sociocentric societies such as China or Bali. I was not surprised at all when the graph showed that the US scored a 91 on individualism.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance: This one I thought was a little harder to determine. My guess would actually be that the US scores higher on this scale (they have more rules) in more liberal states, but lower in more conservative states, though obviously this would depend on which “rules” and “fears of uncertainty” were being faced. I was a little surprised to find that the US scored fairly low on this scale, until I glanced through a few other countries. Iraq, for example, has a very high uncertainty avoidance score, meaning it has far more cultural rules and regulations. Based on what I know of Iraq and the Islamic faith, I realized it wasn’t too surprising. But without the context of other countries and their cultures, my beliefs were a little skewed.
  • Masculinity: I predicted a higher score for the US in terms of its masculinity, though I disagree with the terms “masculine society” and “feminine society”. The US is highly driven, competitive (especially in terms of education), and has a high desire for success. According to Hofstede, the US has a score of 62, which I found surprising in how low it was. As a whole, I would have expected society to be less nurturing, since it is very egocentric.
  • Pragmatism and Indulgence: Although these weren’t in the original descriptions of the cultural dimensions, I was surprised by the fact that the US was considered normative. I would have expected that the US was more driven toward acceptance of new and experimental things. I was less surprised to find that the US was fairly indulgent—that is, that they exert relatively weak control over personal desires and impulses. Again, this is because the US is a very egocentric society, and heavily emphasizes an individual’s own merits as an indicator of success.

In terms of how these dimensions present themselves in the classrooms, I think that deeply-ingrained beliefs and ideas can make appearances at young ages, especially with regards to race and socio-economic class. Both student and teacher perceptions of different students can have an effect on how the student is treated and whether or not they succeed. According to research by Robert J. Marzano, teacher expectations can be formed based on the student’s cumulative folder, their social class, their race, their socio-economic status, and physical attractiveness. These expectations, especially for low-expectancy students, can result in differential teacher behavior (Marzano, 2007). Having a culture that emphasizes individuality and success based on your own merits also works its way into a classroom. If a student succeeds, it is because of something he or she did. If a student is not successful, than it is at the fault of that one student. This may not be explicitly stated, but I think that it is an underlying belief in both the student, his or her peers, and the teacher, which can cause the student to struggle later in school because of a deep-seated belief that he or she is not successful.

American society highly emphasizes competition and a desire for success. We see this in our national desire to be “better”, to be the “land of the free”, and also in our more personal desires to be on top. Society, as a whole, emphasizes education reform because there is this feeling that we have slipped from the “top spot” in national education, and that we need to reclaim it. This effects individual classrooms by introducing new ways to measure education—standards, accountability, national tests. More recently, the Common Core standards, a national “standard” for education, are working their way into classrooms across the country. You could argue that these standards are for the benefit of each individual student, but there is a lot of evidence that suggests standards are actually increasing dropout rates in schools. So is it for individual students, or for the benefit of the country as a whole?

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

The Hofstede Centre. (2014). [Comparison of Cultural Dimensions by Country]. Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions. Retrieved from: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html

The Effectiveness of Allison Davis and Carter G. Woodson

This post is a response to articles written about Carter G. Woodson and Allison Davis, and their various approaches to the reform of education.

Woodson’s goal was to create an organization that would use strategies other than boycotts, demonstrations, and legal battles to combat segregation and discrimination. He was at the forefront of “scientific” studies of Negro life and history, and during his lifetime he was a staunch believer in not allowing others (in this case, the predominantly white community of scholars that funded his research) to dictate what he could publish. He continued with his research even when funding for it was taken away, instead turning to the African American community for money. In this way, he promoted awareness of what he believed was happening (namely the mis-education of African American students) while at the same time becoming very active in his own works. He lead a life of action, or viva activa, which we discussed in my Foundations of Teaching in America class this week. This was, I believe, very successful for him and for other African American students (if you define success as beginning the change that needed to happen). Not only were scholars reading his research, but because he was so active in supporting it, he made it accessible to the general public. More importantly, he made it accessible to teachers, who took off with this idea of reforming education so that it included knowledge of African American history. Woodson was very influential in the Black community, and was moderately influential to the rest of the American public.

Allison Davis, on the other hand, was less influential, I think, though his ideas were just as valid. In fact, Davis’ ideas about reforming education to take into account race, class, sociocultural factors resonate more with me than Woodson’s (not to argue that Woodson’s influence was not necessary, because it was). But he didn’t have the same activity in his work as Woodson (based on the article we read), which I think was detrimental to the longevity of his beliefs.

My own response to the chapters we read leans more toward the idea that while I think it is important for us as a “melting pot” culture to remember and take into account these ideas about how people interpret knowledge, I also think it’s important for people to realize that because our ancestors believed one thing doesn’t mean we should be held accountable for it now. My family comes from German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, South African, French, and a multitude of other backgrounds and cultures, some of which were oppressed at one point, and others which were the oppressors. A total melting pot just in my family! But should I feel accountable or like my family’s history needs accounting for?

Instead of asking these questions, I think it is more important to be aware and perceptive of inequalities rooted in the past that may still persist today. And, like Davis argued, as a teacher it is important to keep in mind a student’s background so that you can take into account their knowledge and how they learn. He argues that teachers need to help students understand how knowledge is constructed—how can they do so if they don’t understand it themselves because of cultural differences? The political correctness and accountability situation is very tricky, and hopefully one day we can make a positive change. I think our ultimate goal should be where we can walk down the street, see a person and call them a human without judgment or bias based on their race or class or gender, yet still find a way to celebrate the differences in humankind and use them as a learning experience rather than a way to put people into classes.

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, and action. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Paideia, a Life of Action in Body and Mind

Recently, I was having a conversation with my mother about parent involvement (or lack thereof) in their students’ lives and schools. When I was growing up, she was always a big part of the education community, even continuing once my siblings and I left the school district. So it came as a big surprise to me when I started teaching preschool, and I realized that the large majority of the parents there weren’t involved with their child’s education. They were “too busy” or weren’t interested, or “didn’t understand”. For teachers, it can be very frustrating, especially when parents want things done a certain way, but aren’t willing to help. That’s why I really felt that the idea of “Paideia” really resonated with me. Paideia is an idea from Ancient Greece which suggests that a life of action creates democratic experiences that cause societies to flourish. In this instance, the life of action refers to parents who become involved in their community and their child’s education, supporting and helping teachers so that together they can help their students become the best members of society they can be.

However, after reading the article by Alfred North Whitehead called The Aims of Education, I realized that a life of action is not only referring to community involvement, but also involvement of the mind. He talks about what he calls “inert ideas”, which are ideas or knowledge we pile into the minds of our young that they don’t use, test, examine, or change (Whitehead, 1916). I think it is important for us as teachers (and parents!) to make sure that we are engaging those ideas and the knowledge we give them. We can do this by guiding students to asking more questions about a subject, letting them discover the information for themselves, and also to let them question it. Why should something exist because a teacher says so? Teachers should be encouraging these kinds of thoughts and interactions with a student’s own thinking, promoting the life of action that is so important.

 

Whitehead, A. N. (1916). The Aims of Education.