Thursday, January 19, 2006

Semester 2

My semester 2 classes began today. I had my student teaching seminar first. This was the one that ended up being so crazy last semester, with the whole "societal structures of oppression" theme every week. Our instructor this semester is a little more practical. He was, frankly, shocked that our seminar had not talked (at all) about 1) state teacher exams, 2) classroom management, 3) resumes, 4) job applications, 5) the certification process, or even 6) graduation requirements. Really the whole point of this seminar is to help us get all that extra crap out of the way. His comment was, "Well, what did you do last semester?" No one really knew how to respond. It was a sad moment for all of us.

I also had "Alternative Methods," which is being taught by a very nice lady who (ironically) seems a little more open to "traditional" teaching methods than my regular "methods" teacher. And one guy in my class had this really interesting idea of social science "labs," in which kids could apply the skills of document analysis/map reading/statistical analysis/visual image interpretation etc to come up with some conclusions about history. Not that there's really enough time for that in a regular classroom...

I would like to share with y'all something that is on the syllabi for all my classes. It is called the "Description of School of Education Conceptual Framework." I would just like to say that the phrase "conceptual framework" makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, with a teddy bear and a binky, for several months. Ok. The conceptual framework includes "three shared philosophical stances," another phrase for the ages (Note: you may want to throw salt over your left shoulder at this point. These phrases have dark power.). The first 2 are the "inquiry stance" and the "curricular stance," which inform the reader that graduates of this school "challenge...complacency" and "strive to meet the needs of diverse learners." Personally, I hate diverse learners. I think everybody does. So this thing about "striving" for them is pretty unique to this school. But I'm confused about it "challenging complacency" when you "perpetuate complacency"? Something to ponder.

Anyway, the third philosophical stance (throwing salt now) is my favorite. Here it is, in its entirety:

"Social justice stance: Our graduates choose to collaborate across differences in and beyond their school communities to demonstrate a commitment to social justice and to serving the world while imagining its perspectives." (saltsaltsaltsalt)

Yes, I have no bananas, if by bananas you mean any idea about what that means in any way. First off, who are we collaborating with? People in our schools, or with other graduates? Second, would someone please please please tell me what "social justice" really means? Because I had to write 2 papers on it last semester, and I have a "social justice action project" that I have to do this semester, and I have no idea what's going on. To me, providing quality education in urban communities is, in itself, social justice. Thus, if you learn to teach well and then do it and are effective, there is no need to get all flowery about social justice because you already have achieved it! The sad fact is that professors in and graduates of this school who teach in/work with/work for crappy urban public schools with no qualms about the lack of quality are actually working against social justice! Even while they write papers and conduct projects extolling its virtues! Aaaaaaaaaaaah!

Let's also talk about "serving the world while imagining its perspectives." So, basically, wait, I should....envision an Indian guy sitting at his desk at a call center in Madras and try to figure out what he's thinking? And then serve him? Or what?

The conceptual framework ends with this statement:

"These stances are the three dimensions of the educational space that we continuously create. [You know you're in trouble when someone uses the word "space" and it is not followed by the phrase "the final frontier."] By using critical inquiry as a tool in approaching the complexity of students and their learning, of ourselves and our teaching, our subject matter, and the contexts in which these operate, we and our students and graduates build effective curricula which benefit students' learning and ultimately serve the larger purpose of moral growth in the individual and society."

I like that the curricula only "benefit students' learning." It's like "our curricula are lukewarmly positive and pretty much fine." So apparently this school is not about education but about "moral growth." I might as well have joined the priesthood. Maybe they could tell me what it takes to be a good teacher! Hmm...maybe not. Priesthood+children=recent controversies. But then again, teachers+children often=no learning. Recent controversies+no learning=kids lose. Every time.

Semester 2, folks. And so it begins.


At January 20, 2006 9:06 AM, Blogger nopey said...

the call centers are all in bangalore and hyderabad!

but nice shout out to us dirty southeners!

At January 20, 2006 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

love your blog, hate to hear all the bullpucky you have to go through.

I personally hate eduspeak and am glad to allow the one edumacational specialist type in my department deal with it. Because I begin to find my mind wandering when I hear the different euphemisms and obfuscations...

"inquiry stance" makes me think of the teacher leaning over the student, trying to get them to answer a question.

"curricular stance" for some reason makes me think of the teacher standing in the front of the room, hands on hips, trying to get the class to quiet down after recess.

And in my book? "Social justice" consists of actually TEACHING these kids what they NEED TO KNOW to get a job and be successful in life, not some touchy feely "we care about you" type attitude. (Or worse, some "we'll make it easier for you but pretend we're not doing that because we know your "people" were "disenfranchised" early in their history here". The cheap prejudice of low expectations, or whatever it's called) Feh.

I'm a college prof (sciences) and I thank my lucky stars (if it's not taboo for a science prof to say that) that I didn't wind up with education classes. I would have either gone mad, wept on a regular basis, or got into long protracted arguments with those in charge.

it's kind of sad to learn that "alternative" methods is where they're allowing the presence of the methods that most of the currently-sucessful people learned by, namely, the traditional ones.

At January 23, 2006 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"social justice" is the code word for Marxism, which is alive only in academic institutions.

At January 25, 2006 9:25 PM, Blogger TMAO said...

Social Justice is not a code word for marxism, and the situation described in this blog is indicative of a the furthest arc of the pendulum swing. The diversity sessions, the collaboration across SES/ethnic groups, these are overdone, but much of it is over-compensation for the days when schools were segregated (oh... they still are), Spanish-speaking kids were dumped in classes with kids with Downs syndrome, black males were grossly over-represented in SpEd classes (wait, that one's still going on too), and manymany teachers knew next to nothing about the demanding and diverse communities they were attempting to work with and for. The pendulum has already begun its swing back to center, and we should all recognize this as a good thing, make the most of our opportunities to critically reflect and learn -- I have a hand gesture used occasionally to emphasize a point that apparently means dirtynastysex in many regions of Mexico, who knew? -- and ensure that in correcting this particular over-swing, we don't let things s;ip back to the bad(der) old days.

At January 29, 2006 4:13 PM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

It's funny that the blogger named "tmao" claims that social justice isn't Marxism...I'm sure that's just your name, it's just a funny coincidence. I think you're right, tmao, that we should be conscious of social conditions and our own biases toward the kids and communities we work with. However, I think "cultural competency" and "cultural awareness" really should not take up nearly as much training time as they currently do. Yes, people are culturally different from one another, but these differences are mostly superficial. When you get down to the core of things, kids and adults all over want the same things: love, security, happiness, fulfillment, etc. You don't need to learn about the "hispanic community" to connect with a hispanic child. What you have to do is spend time with that child and his/her parents. You try to understand him, and in doing so show him that you care about understanding him and helping him. You solicit his opinions, offer guidance and support, hold him to high standards, and believe in him. And if you don't know or understand something about his culture or family, ask him! This strategy will get you farther and do more to help your kid than all the diversity classes in the world.

At January 30, 2006 5:22 PM, Blogger TMAO said...

"Yes, people are culturally different from one another, but these differences are mostly superficial."

I don't know how true this statement is, but I do know that it reflects a certain amount of privelege to say it. As an affluent educated white (non-Jewish) male, I have the privelege to define myself as I please, and allow my cultural and ethnic differences to be superficial. I wonder how much freedom of self-definition a poor uneducated African-American female has. Does our society allow her that same privelege of presumed superficiality? I think not, and I think many people would disagree that their relative cultural differences are superficial.

"When you get down to the core of things, kids and adults all over want the same things: love, security, happiness, fulfillment, etc. You don't need to learn about the "hispanic community" to connect with a hispanic child. What you have to do is spend time with that child and his/her parents. You try to understand him, and in doing so show him that you care about understanding him and helping him."

I agree, but for many people it isn't that easy separating the child from the label of "hispanic" (or Latino) and all the myriad assumptions and associations that come with the term. I think generation upon generation of culturally-inflexible teachers have demonstrated this. And while I believe we've pushed a little too hard to right the ship, let's not forget the fact we were lilting to begin with, and why.

And moreover, I think you do need to learn about the "hispanic community" if you seek to educate its members, with an emphasis on local community. We don't educate in a vaccuum, and the world outside the classroom walls affects the learning that goes on inside more than is even possible to guage.


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