Thursday, April 13, 2006

The cure-all for life or Public School Utopia

When we were talking in class tonight, I kept thinking about something I'd read in the last couple of weeks. However, as I mentioned here previously, all of the reading I'm doing seems to be running together and I can't ever remember where I read something, or which brilliant person said it (all of the authors of these works would cringe knowing grad students are getting them all confused... surely it's not the fame they wished for...). Anyway, I decided that it was from Pinar's What is Curriculum Theory? book, and found what I was thinking about.

I had listened to the first part of the Oprah show Tiffany mentioned in class on my way to class Tuesday afternoon. I too, was glad that education was being mentioned, and at least the show did talk to and use the work of Jonathan Kozol, citing his new book Shame of the Nation. Otherwise, I felt like it was another strike by business and the media on public education.

So, in his book, Pinar has an affinity for the historian Christopher Lasch, and quotes his work quite a bit throughout the chapters. In the final chapter, titled "Education of the American Public," Pinar writes about how we as educators, must begin to work to turn the tide, claim our positions as intellectuals in society, and initiate true reform based on social equity rather than flawed business approaches. In this chapter, he uses some quotes from Lasch on page 255:

"Schooling is not a cure-all for everything that ails us."

"If there is one lesson that we might have been expected to learn in the 150 years since Horace Mann took charge of the schools in Massachusetts, it is that schools can't save society."

What is the role of the school and what is the role of the teacher? Are teachers caretakers, instructors, guides, social workers, stand-in parents, or professional intellectuals? Can they really be all of these at once? Can schools survive increasing requirements and regulations to manage both children and phenomenon which are often beyond their reach and outside their control? And why do politicians, the business world, the media, and popular opinion in the public realm continue to believe that schools can fix everything? Why do they think that schooling can save society? Why is such a powerful and critical burden placed in the hands of people who are paid and respected so little?

Pinar, W. F. (2004). What is curriculum theory? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sholle & Denski with Stuart Hall

Like Abdullah mentioned in class tonight, I also was interested by the comments about how students have to realize how to "position themselves" when reading media. From the article:

"such a pedagogy must allow students to speak from their own experience at the same time that it encourages them to identify and unravel the codes of popular culture that may work to construct subject relations that serve to silence and disempower them. Popular culture must be viewed as a complex and contradictory sphere in which dominant culture attempts to structure experience through the porduction of meaning, and which at the same time may provide possibilities for more open democratic formations." - p. 307-308

"If we are to educate students to become media literate, we must attend to the multiple references and codes that position them." - p.309

I've been reading an amazing book over the last couple of weeks - Promises to Keep: Cultural Studies, Democratic Education, and Public Life edited by Greg Dimitriadis and Dennis Carlson. It is full of great chapters, mostly from that cultural studies perspective. In a chapter by Norman Denzin called "Screening Race", he makes some interesting statements around a quote by Stuart Hall:

"Popular culture, Stuart Hall reminds us is mythic, a theater of desires, a space of popular fantasies. 'It is where we go to discover who we are'(1996, p.474). And in answering this extistential question, we find that our gendered conceptions of self and Other are grounded always in misplaced notions of racial difference, of whiteness and privilege. We must always be on guard concerning what we learn about ourselves."

This is exactly what the positioning seems to be - students asking themselves - what do I know about myself, about others, and how has the media shaped that knowing? Do I see myself reflected or created by media? Do I challenge the presentation or representation or re/presentation?

I did like this article quite a bit. I reminded me of the reading from Dr. Schwarz' media literacy class. I am interested in theories that allow for us to question the dichotomy of the manipulative producers vs. the mindless masses, and the notion that a revolution in the sense of reversing these roles is the answer. Did I agree with everything - no. But overall, very enjoyable. Here's the citation for that book:

Dimitriadis, G., & Carlson, D. (2003). Promises to Keep: Cultural Studies, Democratic Education, and Public Life. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Public School Teachers

There are a number of thoughts running through my head, all related to the fact that, according to Wills in our Making Race Visible text, 92% of our teachers are white, monolingual, affluent females. That's still bothering me to a large degree. For Dr. Wang's Theory to Practice, we're reading Pinar's What is Curriculum Theory? book. He quotes Lather, on p.218, who states "teaching has come to be formulated as an extension of the woman's role in the family: to accept male leadership as natural" and to produce workers for the male, essentially. The other night, I was listening to a mayoral candidate talk in response to the question "What do we need to do about the crumbling of our public school system?" The response was horrible. Basically, the candidate stated that the school has to be fixed so that we can attract business to the area, because they want a workforce guaranteed for at least a decade. Pinar's assessment of the rhetoric "the country needs worker bees... not an educated and politically astute citizenry" certainly seems to be true here.

So while I am angered by that, I also keep thinking about what we can do for schools and students. The race/gender issue in schools... is it another chicken and egg dilemma? Can that 92% make a difference in the lives of non-white students so that they are encouraged to become teachers and create the diversity in our teaching staff that we so desperately need? Or will the change have to come from the members of those groups first - more than 8% who are committed to making a difference and want things to change for the next generation who then will begin renewal?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stuart Hall and Representation

This was actually the second time I've seen this video... we watched it in Dr. Schwarz' Media Literacy class (which I took two years ago - Spring 2004). I was anxious to go back and look at my notes from that viewing and compare them with tonight's notes (I was one of those who was writing frantically). Anyway, my notes from two years ago were icky - very basic and sketchy. That was pretty much a disappointment. I was really hoping for some insightful mix of thoughts!

On the way home tonight, I was thinking about what Jackie said about the Class Dissmissed video and Hall's thoughts from tonight, and Dana's comments about Communication Theory. I think that obviously media studies will involve basic tenets of communication theory, so the overlap there makes perfect sense to me. What is different though, is the notion of the feedback loop - when media is created, there is sometimes little feedback from viewers to producers (advertising and ratings aside). So, how do we know what message is actually being received? Is it the message that the producer intends? Or is the audience subverting the intended message, and creating meaning contrary to that "pre-determined"? This plays back into Jackie's statement about Class Dissmissed. Were the personalities we received - the characters - the stories - the stereotypes - what the producers intended? Or were these just our creations and interpretations?

As in interesting aside, last week, Nightline aired an interview with the producer/creator and actors on the show Grey's Anatomy about race in Hollywood. I found it really interesting that the producer (Shonda Rhimes) talking about watching the Cosby show, and pleased that there were people "like her" on TV, when we had just watched other African-Americans bashing it on the Class Dissmissed video. It was just a disconnect there. Anyway, it was a good piece, even if it was too short, and could have been really expanded. I would have liked to have heard much more from her and the actors, too.

Monday, March 13, 2006

First thoughts about Apprenticeship in Thinking

I really didn't think this book was as good as the Heath book. As I stated in class, Rogoff isn't quite as diplomatic or emotionally removed from her stance as Heath. It didn't have the same ethonography-feel that Heath was able to maintain througout the book.

Overall, I do think it has some good information. The background on Piaget and Vygotsky, and comparing their work to hers was interesting. However, I do think that this should be a comparison someone else makes - it seems a bit presumptious to say you're next in line behind two world-famous developmental psychologists/theorists.

I don't know as much about Piaget as Vygotsky. I've read more Vygotsky in the time I've been in grad school. He's pretty hot in literacy right now, so I've seen his work more than others.

On 192, Rogoff states that "the metaphor of apprenticeship stresses children's active role in learning the lessons of their culture, through guided participation with more skilled companions." In this statement, there is a lot that I do like about this metaphor. While I don't know if we are curious by nature - pre-programmed to make sense of our world - it does seem that children are meaning makers. What I kept thinking during class is that in many ways this makes sense, but since I am not a geneticist, I don't know about the scientific determinism. It does seem that cultures all have varying ways of making sense of their world and seek to explain how things have come to be.

The other thing I kept thinking in class was that children are curious, and remain so as long as they are encouraged to keep asking why. Maybe so many of us in the class were struggling because we are thinking of public schooling. Endless, mindless standardized tests seem to beat the curiosity and inquisitiveness right out of kids.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I may be the outlier in class when it comes to the book Ways with Words. This book is in the top three that I've read for this program/degree in the last three years. When I finished it, I told my husband that it may have been the best. I promptly called my mom, who is an early childhood literacy specialist, and told her she's got to read it - I am taking it to her this weekend. I think that it is so powerful, that it ought to be required reading for anyone even thinking about teaching in a public school - especially an elementary school. The best thing, I think, is Heath's stance. So much of what we read on literacy and language acquisition is elitist and overly academic, and seems to point fingers and criticize cultures and habits. There was none of this type of attitude in the book, and it was amazingly refreshing.

Speaking of my mom, we were talking the other morning and she was talking about a family of one of her pre-k students. The family is from Iran, and my mom engaged the mother in an insightful conversation about race and religion and childrearing. She commented that at one point, the mother began to cry, and thanked her for the conversation. My mom stated that she was very complimentary to the mother on how she treats her children. It puzzled my mom, and she and I talked about the power of a genuine question - the curiosity that is concerned for others - a way to talk to know and understand, without pointing fingers or acting superior. It reminded me of this class, and the reading we've done here.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Thoughts from Ways With Words

I have been completely fascinated with the book we're reading now, Heath's Ways With Words. I was a baby in the early 70's, so I have been really analyzing my own home at the time, and my parents' beliefs about literacy and what kinds of experiences and practices were common in our home. At the time, both of my parents had graduated from high school (both in the Dallas area) - my father was in the military and going to college, and my mother stayed home with us (she'd go to college later in my life). What is odd, though, is that our experiences were closer to the "townspeople" in Heath's book. Was that because of the city? Something about the regional environment?

The other thing that I continue to think about is how fascinating it would be to set up a camera in my own home to capture the interactions I have with my own children - what kinds of things we talk about, how many questions I ask them, how many directives they are given, etc. I think I know what happens, but I'd be interested all the same.