Some Questions to Help Students Ponder…

Part of what I see as an important part of my future job as an English teacher is to help draw out student voices. Some questions to help students pursue answers to:

What’s your story?

How is it like or unlike the stories of others?

What do we owe one another?

What does it mean to be human in the twenty-first century?

What qualities and dispositions and knowledge are of most value to humanity?

How can we nourish, develop, and organize full access to those valuable qualities?

Why are we here?

What do we want?

What kind of world could we reasonably hope to create? 

How might we begin?

Questions from: Teach Freedom

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The Wonderful Goings On of the METP

Since one of my favorite things about our scholarship program is the diversity of people we have in our program, I want to occasionally highlight some of the neat programs and events our members are apart of. I’ll start off with two of the students from this year’s freshman class, Isaac and Camille.
Isaac was apart of a recent production of an adaption of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” with the Honors College, titled “The Many Faces of Love and Desire” playing the part of Duke Orsino.
Camille, a member of the Indian Student Association, participated in a Bollywood flash mob in the Union.
Flash Mob video

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The Power of Self Esteem

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life. Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.”–Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Again, just a short post, as I’m swamped with reading assignments and papers to write for my classes (yay for being an English Ed major!).

The issue of young women and self-esteem is an issue very dear to me (as I am a woman and know what it’s like to feel like you aren’t worth anything). Though we could argue on and on about the place of moral/political instruction in the classroom, I don’t feel that helping young women to understand their worth and their right to equality with men is quite the same thing. The education system has long been a major force in the tracking of women into gender specific jobs, teaching women and men that strength and patience, power and kindness are opposites which creates the idea that women (as a whole) and men (as a whole) are suited to specific types of jobs instead of recognizing that each individual, regardless of gender, has strengths and weaknesses. Teaching our men that they can only be strong and women that they can only be meek is wrong, and I think it is necessary for teachers to consider whether or not they are teaching in such a way that reinforces these beliefs.

What are your thoughts on the issue? How do you teach or strive not to teach gender roles in your classroom? What do you think of Stanton’s words?

The American Dream, Education, and Poverty

The ideology of meritocracy is key to the American Dream. The word “America” immediately conjures up thoughts of equal opportunity for all. According to Johnson, “the American Dream promises that our system functions as a meritocracy…[where] people get ahead or behind based on what they earn and deserve rather than what circumstances they were born into” (20). This idea permeates everything from the government, to schools, to family homes, to conversations, to core beliefs. Though we may not realize it, we accept this idea of the American Dream functioning as a meritocracy without question.

Though the American Dream would like to pretend that it perpetuates a system of meritocracy, in reality, self-serving desires—while not necessarily wrong or bad—keep the dream of a meritocratic society from being realized. Because an upper-class existed prior to the implementation of a meritocratic/democratic system in America, there are those who entered the so called “meritocratic” system at an extreme advantage as well as those an extreme disadvantage. In the face of the rising value and standards of merit in America, those who had access to the power of wealth used it, and are still using it, to put themselves and their children ahead. This is seen in the interviews discussed in “The American Dream and the Power of Wealth.” These interviews provide two points that directly oppose the idea of America as a meritocracy: parents want the best education for their children in order to give them the best opportunities to succeed, and, the higher a family is on the economic ladder, the more power they wield in order to secure the best education for their children. Though parents often admitted to the inequality inherent in the education system, that did not stop them from doing everything they could, using every resource—from their own income to the acquired wealth of those in their families—available to them to put their children ahead. Through a race, a competition of “meritocracy’s” own making, America has become a system of stratification.

In a “land of opportunity,” the very real variations in school quality creates a paradox that forces us to ask a very important question: if American is the land of opportunity, a meritocracy where one advances or falls on their merit alone, and education is the “great equalizer” that levels the playing field, giving all students the same tools, how can we justify the fact that overwhelmingly schools in poor neighborhoods and areas do not have the same funds, resources, quality teachers, etc. that more affluent neighborhoods do? How can we say that children in poverty have the same, equal opportunities to succeed as children from wealthy families when their access to quality education is not equal?

Cited:

Johnson, HB. 2006. Chapters 2 and 3 in The American Dream and the Power of Wealth: Choosing Schools and Inheriting Inequality in the Land of Opportunity. New York: Routledge. Pp. 19-78.

More Than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds, Department of Education Research Finds–US Department of Education

More articles:

Very Rich Get Very Richer: Wealthiest 20% Holds 94.5% of World’s Money–Wall Street Journal

Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools: “Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income [in 2013].” –Southern Education Foundation

Teaching and Education

I’m knee deep in a new semester, so this week I thought I would post a brief reaction I wrote in response to two quotes. Be sure to leave a comment with your opinion of the quotes and the ideas expressed by them below!

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men [and women]–the balance wheel of the social machinery.” –Horace Mann, 1848

“Education is the one realm in which constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity has not been adequate to promote and protect the social equity embedded in the promise of U. S. democracy. While such equality remains an ideal essential to the health of the republic, its manifestation as tangible reality remains…elusive.” Manuel Gomez, 1999

As someone studying to be a teacher, the two quotes presented serve a dual purpose of inspiration and catalyst. From a naive viewpoint, Mann’s belief that education is the “great equalizer of the conditions of men [and women]” reflects everything I desire to believe about education. I am almost desperate to believe that as long as a student is dedicated and willing to work hard, the education they receive will put them on equal footing with their peers, the other students in the class, regardless of their situations outside of class. It is this idea of education working as an equalizer of things otherwise outside of my control that inspires me to teach, to be a part of the “balance wheel of the social machinery.”
However, as much as I want to believe that education is the “great equalizer,” I agree when Gomez speaks without the rosy glasses of wishful thinking, saying that this potential’s “manifestation as a tangible reality remains…elusive.” Social expectations exist outside of school, so while a teacher might attempt to keep the classroom balanced, these social expectations will continue to unbalance the balance wheel. While it is discouraging to think that education has not—and perhaps cannot—lived up to its potential as an equalizer, without educating students in a way that attempts to do away with inequalities inherent in the current system, schools will not encourage future generations to do away with the system of inequality. Without the realization—the catalyst to action—that education is not fulfilling it’s potential, nothing can be done to change it.

Finding “The Book”

Beyond teaching students foundational grammar tools and how to write well, my passion as a future teacher lies in helping students learn how to love reading. I’ve heard so many friends of mine grumble and complain about the books that they had to read for their English classes, and every time I would feel a pang thinking about how much they would enjoy reading if they could only be shown a book that they truly and deeply identified with. I believe part of the problem is the inability of teachers to teach a book to a large class in such a way that each individual sees themselves and their situations in every book they read, but there is only so much teachers can do to encourage their students to emphasize with the stories if the students don’t desire to open their eyes and look. This is where I think connecting students with books that easily strike a chord with them–where they see the parallels between themselves and the characters for themselves and feel strongly compelled to finish the story–can make a huge difference.

Rebecca Alber on edutopia offers five tips for helping a student find the right book. These tips (as seen in the image) are a great starting place to help think about what it takes to get students to connect with books.

As a voracious reader from a young age, I have read a wide variety of books. Recently, however, as I’ve begun to collect books for my future in-class library, I’ve realized my own need to re-read books with a critical eye, inspecting books, especially YA, for similar elements in order to help me better suggest books to my students. I hope to have a respectable collection of mini-book reviews by the time I have my own classroom to help my students find “the book”.

What are some books, YA or otherwise, that you think deserve to be on every classroom shelf? What other ways can you help students connect with individual books and with reading as a whole? Comment below!