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Monday, October 19, 2015

Race and Gender - Gender and Race

So let me get this straight:

     Girls can't be who they are because of girls, boys, adults and society

     Boys can't be who they are because of boys, girls, adults and society

     Adolescents can't be who they are because of stages and development and schema, boys, girls,            adults, and society

     Anyone who has race can't be who they are because of others like and unlike them and stages and        development and schema, and boys and girls, and society

     There is really no such thing as race, but we live in a world that is racial, in fact "a fundamental          organizing principle, a way of knowing and interpreting the social world."(121)

Is it any wonder that Nakkula and Toshalis describe the identities of the young people we work with as "performances" (121)?

We often discuss race and gender issues in my classroom, especially in the early part of the year and here is a link to a website my students and I discussed recently:  Understanding Race

Whenever possible, we try to distinguish the language of race from culture in my classroom, as culture is generally associated with pride and family, and race is usually associated with racism.  One of my students suggested today that we all check the "other" box when filling out demographic info, and write in "human" in the space provided.  I thought this was an excellent suggestion, and was even happier when it led to a spirited classroom discussion.  My favorite part was one student who steadfastly refused to consider that racism played a role in his life (white male) and while we never came to consensus as to why it might, neither did he eject or shut down from the conversation.  I can't wait until tomorrow.

How can anyone be expected to demonstrate "authentic" when what is expected of them is in such conflict with anything individual and personal?

I think that probably the most important task of adolescence and the one that causes the most stress to the individual is discovering who they are authentically, and allowing that to drive decisions and be seen by others.  I would contend that when young people pretend to be like others, act like the crowd, and it is not authentic to their true selves, that it causes massive internal conflict, which is apparent to others and the source for insecurity and beacons ridicule.  This in turn, rather than influencing the adolescent toward more individual pursuits, causes them to refine their attempts to fit in, with a shut down period in between.

It is only when adolescents make honest attempts to share their authentic selves regardless of the reinforcement they get from peers, that they are seen as individual, and respected.  This causes a conundrum for teens, the fear to be original leading to more adaptive behavior, which in turn leads to reinforcement of adaptive rather than individual behavior.  Whether assimilating to gender, race, or other social stimulus, young adolescents trend toward and desire inclusion, when in fact, it is the authentic individual that will attract true friends and commandeer respect among them.

One area in which chapters 6 & 7 fail to give enough room for is the manifestations of gender and racial pressure, which often show themselves in sex, and drug and alcohol use.

When young people experience frustration with gender and race roles, they often turn to risky behaviors in an attempt to fit in.  Adolescent boys as well as girls feel enormous pressure to engage in sexual relationships because of the stories and encouragement they feel from peers, often even more so than because of curiosity or raging hormones.  Girls and boys both feel pressure from their peer groups to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and as much as we may want to separate this from gender and race study, they are intertwined.

We hear about Antwon listening to rap, and wearing counter culture clothing, but not of hanging out with his crew smoking weed?  We discuss Lorena building muscle and flipping off classmates who question it, but not cries of "dyke"?  Predators (socially, sexually, and racially) know about the incredible pressure sex-alcohol-drugs have on teens, especially those in conflict, and we as educators need to be realistic in our outlook as well, have open conversations, and build strong foundations within our young people in order for them to have the necessary tools to face these daily challenges with more than just hope.  Building those skills is complex, and requires a strong sense of self, but also a flexible and open approach that is geared toward the individual.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Possibility Development

In attempting to connect Nakkula and Toshalis chapters 4 and 5 to my practice, I find myself continually circling back to one idea, that "problems are not rooted in the students, but rather in larger systematic issues."

To begin with, I don't think we can look at the conditions in which we teach, as "problems" but rather circumstances filled with opportunity.  If we think about our students through an asset based lens rather than a deficit model, we can begin to think about what is possible rather than what is wrong. That being said, there are some inequalities facing the most economically challenged students in our schools, many of whom I work with.  While thinking about this post, I came upon the following article, which ran in the Providence Journal today:

Parents' Talk is the Key to Learning

In it, Dana Suskind, proposes that the single most determining factor in the ability of our students to learn is formed before they ever step foot into a classroom.  It is the number of words they hear spoken to them in their first three years of life.  Her research has shown that children growing up in poverty may hear as many as "30 million less words spoken to them by age three than their affluent peers."

This is an astounding number to me, and as this number bounced around inside me for a while, I began to consider not just the quantity, but the quality of the words my students hear over the 17+ years before they arrive in my classroom.  I was surrounded by words as a child, and I in turn have surrounded my own children.  I wasn't, and we are, by no means affluent, but that never got in the way of household literacy.  In considering my recent assignments for ELA class, and for my program in general, I must honestly think about the fact that I am literally drowning my students in words.

What seems like a pedestrian 300 word response to a chapter in The Outsiders that we have read, in reality is an assignment that contains thousands of words, many of which, I suspect, my students have never encountered before.

In talking to them, over many years, I realize that many come from single parent households, many have an elderly caretaker during the afternoon and evening hours while parents work second shift, and most do not even have a single book in their homes.  Now here I am tossing them into the deepest of oceans, without a lifejacket, instruction manual, or even a floaty.  No wonder the blank page sitting in front of them seems so daunting.

Nonetheless, I can't go back and read to them as infants.  So what to do?

The Possibility Development Model, allows us to immerse my students in rich conversations, connected lessons, and with peers who are co-creating models simultaneously. Vygotsky and Sullivan tell us that together they can begin to imagine possibilities, and that if I listen and reach, we can together build skill sets that can make those possibilities a reality.  There is a great book by Daniel Coyle, which details the possibility of the right conditions creating possibilities that far exceed the typical, and it is in these foundations that I can find inspiration to be optimistic.

I think that is why it is so important for me to build a community within my program, even at the expense of academic curriculum in the early going.  Rather than spend the beginning of the year assessing and defining my students by their struggles, I choose to assess their connectedness to each other, and to themselves.  I feel like the students I see are so seasoned as to the way our schools have failed to recognize them, that to continue on that path would be pointless.  So we read the outsiders, and talk and talk.  We prioritize the trust we can build in each other through the "second classroom" and we build belief in ourselves, and the space we create together.  Some days (like last Friday)  we push everything aside, and cook together (homemade chips and salsa).  Other days we fight about the expectations of how to treat each other and co-exist with the general school population.  Soon we will be our own family, and we can start catching up on those 30 million words.