stephanie jones

Archive for June, 2007|Monthly archive page

Social Class and Campaign Politics

In politics, poverty, social class on June 22, 2007 at 10:06 pm

Education, Iraq, climate change, health care, the economy. These are all important issues in the upcoming presidential campaign, and what do they have in common? Class. The lived realities of social class impact, and are impacted by, these major campaign talking points. It seems that John Edwards is using social class (or rather, poverty) as a hub to organize the issues most important to his campaign whereas class (or poverty) is positioned more peripherally by others’ platforms.

Though I have not made a decision about which candidate I would like to see in the big game, I did find today’s Brian Lehrer show (WNYC) intriguing.

When asked about Welfare Reform and what was right and wrong about the policies leading to the end of welfare, Edwards restructured his response to talk about what is still wrong: folks are struggling to make ends meet. Whether they’re receiving government support or whether they are out working full-time, poor people living lives as, according to Edwards, “second-rate citizens,” and in a country where citizens are valued, this is simply unacceptable.

Edwards refers to Jason DeParle’s book American Dream a read that taught me a lot about the history of health care and welfare in the U.S. And though Edwards states that the economy will be stronger if poverty is eradicated in the United States (by means of, among other things, new and stronger unions, universal health care, and stronger education – whatever that might be) , he argues that the most important reason folks should be driven to work toward ending poverty is that it is the moral thing to do.

Will middle-class, upper middle-class, and the ultra-affluent vote to challenge poverty head-on because it’s the right thing to do? I wish that I thought I lived in a country where that would happen…

Theory or Practice? What do teachers need? What do teachers want?

In critical literacy, language, professional development resources, stephanie jones, teacher education on June 21, 2007 at 2:29 am

What is the age-old theory/practice divide really about? Can one exist without the other? Are there ways that we can integrate theory and practice in sophisticated and yet practical ways in teacher education?

Teachers are often over-worked, over-burdened with managerial tasks (especially in today’s age of Accountability), and very tired at the end of the day after being with a room full of students. This doesn’t create the most optimal condition, perhaps, for critical reflection and deep thinking about how theory informed their practice throughout the day. However, every teacher is working across her day informed by theory.  Perhaps a question we could ask is whether or not she has had access to readings, discussions, and/or activities throughout her education that do at least three things: 1) recognize and engage personal and scholarly theories of the world/societal structures 2) engage theories of learning, and 3) recognize and engage in theory-building through teacher research.  Perhaps if some – or all three – of these kinds of experiences are in place, teachers might begin to question and critique the “theory/practice divide” as something that positions them on the consuming end of knowledge and information rather than as producers of knowledge and – dare I say it – theory.

I know far too many deeply engaged, intellectual teachers working with young children to be speaking of this myself. I would love to hear from some readers:

-How do you read the theory/practice divide?

-What have you found helpful in your own education (either formal or informal)?

-Who benefits from the theory/practice divide?

-Who is disadvantaged in the ongoing presentation of this divide?

-What are teacher educators, professional developers, and researchers to do?

-What are teachers, principals, families, and students to do?

-Who are the other players in this theory/research divide?

Mr. Ramirez

In family-school relations, high school, personal narratives, professional development resources, social class, stephanie jones on June 19, 2007 at 6:08 pm

The sun beat down ruthlessly as I marched across the spacious and vulnerable lawn of the outdoor Florida high school campus that was framed by one-story brick buildings. Doors hung open in fifteen feet intervals revealing classrooms filled with rows of chair and desk combinations and a teacher at the front of the room. I stepped into the shade of the canopy that covered a walkway and made my way to the classroom where I first learned about beakers and chemicals and where I memorized the table of elements and slouched in a chair staring dreamily into the dark afro in front of me. Today I was on a mission – no attending class, no slouching or dreaming, no goggle-wearing or chemical mixing. It was a new semester and a new day, and though Mr. Ramirez held my attention impressively throughout Chemistry, I was not going to follow through with his recommendation that I take physics. Stepping up and into the laboratory-like room, I handed him a piece of paper that indicated I was intending to drop his physics class and take something else. Mr. Ramirez (who was about forty years old, dark-complected, good-looking, and the food for my fantasies of marrying off my mother to a middle-class man who could provide her with an easier life) pushed his moustached lips together, shook his head and said something like:
“Stephanie. Don’t do this,” and gave me a long hard look.
“Why are you doing this?”
Another pause.
I can’t for the life of me remember if I responded to him or just sat there staring at his face or my shoes.
“Tell you what, I’ll give you an A. Just take the class. You can do it.”
At the time I had constructed some perverse fantasy in my mind that this “bribe” was to keep me in his classroom as eye candy, or something exceptionally stupid like that. People told me that I was pretty and had since I was old enough to understand words, so nearly everything that happened to me was immediately designated as a response to my physical appearance. Now, as an educator who has counseled first-generation college students who were on the verge of dropping out, and as someone who has made similar “offers” just to keep students in the line of possibility I reread this historic event differently. I have sat in my office chair pushing my lips together, shaking my head:
“I will do everything I can to make this a good experience for you.”
“Don’t drop out. I will get you through this, you can count on me to do that.”
For the life of me I can’t remember their responses. Perhaps they stared silently at me, or at their shoes, or perhaps they shook their head and mumbled something about not fitting in, not being able to manage family and school, not being able to talk in classes where they felt so different. Those details have left me, but the real physical pain of feeling my heart in my toes and knowing that I was about to lose one has stayed with me. Mr. Ramirez must have felt that same pain.
Mr. Ramirez was trying. He had to know that I was a recent newcomer, that I was from a family headed by a single woman at the time struggling to pay the bills, that I had been teetering on the edge of the abyss for at least two years, that I had the brains and the motivation but not the know-how to find comfort within school walls. How difficult it must have been to watch me walk out the door with his signature on the paper indicating that I was now officially dropping his course, physics, a course that could have provided me with cultural capital had I thought about applying for college, a course that could have convinced me to pursue science beyond high school, a course that might have helped me find comfort within academic settings.
He knew.
I didn’t.
That part of the conversation never happened, but of course, it’s so clear today.
Even had that conversation taken place, what is a sixteen-year-old who hated school, despised witnessing the privilege of schoolmates, and needed to make every dollar possible to pay for her own clothes, food, shoes, and help with younger siblings and household expenses to do? I needed money, and school was placing too many boundaries around the hours I had for working. I transferred to the district vocational school where I took classes for a few hours in the morning and then left to go to work – to make money – at noon. Mr. Ramirez, in that moment, didn’t have a shot at me. He might have convinced me across a number of conversations and across time, but in that space of me smiling and handing over the “drop” slip from the high school office, he didn’t have a fighting chance. I was done. Gone.
The multiple, competing, and contradictory narratives of my mobility across social class divides are filled with tense spaces such as that constructed between Mr. Ramirez and myself on that hot Florida day. Near-misses I call them – moments when I might have begun down a path that was foreign to me and most of my family, moments that might have made me miss the carefully practiced beat of walking in working-poor shoes, moments that might have gone either way, though they were in the habit of going in the same direction as the moments for generations before me, moments that constantly threatened to reclaim any stake I had made on the path to mobility. Money and time were always at the center of those tense times for me, two concepts that I found intriguing as a young child but unable to control them, at least in small ways, until I was an adolescent. Both, however, are forms of capital that work for us or against us in various societal exchanges, and that was something I did recognize early on in life, as well as the fact that physical beauty and a feminine demeanor could be used nearly as well as money in most circumstances. And use them I did.

NY Times Magazine article on Ruby Payne

In professional development resources, social class, stephanie jones, teacher education resources on June 15, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Paul Tough, one of my favorite journalists, was recently led astray and wrote a piece on the work of Ruby Payne. With presidential candidate John Edwards on the cover, the entire issue was devoted to economic inequities, and is worth taking a quick look: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/.

Payne is very popular among teachers and principals largely, I would argue, because she does two things: 1) talks openly about poverty and education, and 2) offers a straight-forward and simple solution to a complex social issue that manifests itself in local classrooms every day. I applaud her popularity on the first account, and I deplore it on the second. Additionally, the book was written in one week about Payne’s experience with her husband’s family, and without engaging the extensive research available on social class, poverty, and education. I have written a letter to Paul Tough expressing some of my views:

June 13, 2007

Dear Paul Tough,

Greetings from a fan of at least four years. I love your pieces in the Times Magazine and sometimes have my students read them for class discussion. Your piece on Ruby Payne, however, has left me wondering what temporarily led you astray. With your experiences in writing about working-class folks and the real social issues faced by people in a complexly stratified world, I am surprised that someone offering a quick fix to the problems of poverty and education by teaching students the “rules” of class was able to sustain your interest much less be worthy of such exceptional publicity.

Payne’s work does not challenge the classism that exists everywhere in our society but is most felt and experienced in schools every day, and she certainly doesn’t engage with the possibility that in a market-driven economy where enormous bonuses and greed rule the day that there will always, always, be workers on the bottom of the heap. Frankly, it won’t matter if they know how to use the right silverware, substitute their old “ain’t”s for “isn’t”s, or speak with more (middle-class) clarity and in a more (middle-class) elaborated manner when they still find it improbable or impossible to pay the bills at the end of the month even when working two full-time jobs at a low wage. And in the meantime, if students really do learn all the “rules” of class and they still don’t find themselves in an upwardly mobile trajectory, they may end up blaming themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods. This couldn’t possibly be productive in a society where working folks need to depend on one another so much just to survive.

I am from a poor family, was a first-generation college student, and am now a relatively young professor at Teachers College, Columbia University (maybe one of the “angry assistant professors” referred to in the Payne piece). I know enough about education, class, language, and literacy to teach graduate students, teachers, and children, but I know much more about the painful, disjointed, and incredibly challenging journey of class mobility. The series on social class in the Times two summers ago did a fabulous job of making the complicated nature of class and mobility apparent, and when such complexities are stripped away and simple solutions are proposed to problems, we may find ourselves on the fast road to blaming the victim – again – who doesn’t seem to just follow the rules.

I humbly offer the title of my book, Girls, Social Class, and Literacy: What Teachers Can Do to Make a Difference (Heinemann, 2006) only because I have tremendous respect for you, and a number of teachers and professors have said that they find it to be an inspiring alternative to Ruby Payne’s Framework book. It is far from perfect and I do not claim to have solutions, but I have at least attempted to work through the enduring tensions that teachers, students, and families face when kids from working-class and poor homes go to school. At the same time I continue to focus on pedagogy, social justice, and a powerful education in the best interest of those who are born already on the lower rungs of the social class ladder.

Keep up the great work. I still love it and will continue to be a fan.

Recent publications by s. jones

In professional development resources, publications, social class, stephanie jones, teacher education resources on June 14, 2007 at 9:51 pm

Hicks, D. and Jones, S. (2007). “Living class as a girl” In Late to class: Social class and schooling in the new economy. J. Van Galen and G. Noblit (Eds.), p. 55-86.

Jones, S. (2007). Working-poor mothers and middle-class others: Psychosocial considerations in home-school relations and research. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 38(2), 159-177.

Jones, S. and Clarke, L. (2007). Disconnections: Pushing readers beyond connections and toward the critical. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 2(2), 95-115.

Jones, S. (2006). Lessons from Dorothy Allison: teacher education, social class, and critical literacy. Changing English, 13(3), 293-305

Jones, S. (2006). Language with an attitude: White girls performing class. Language Arts, 84(2), 114-124.

Jones, S. (2006). Girls, social class, and literacy: What teachers can do to make a difference. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

a personal narrative…

In kindergarten, personal narratives, social class on June 14, 2007 at 3:45 pm

stephanie jones

kindergarten
Methailade. That’s what I remember about kindergarten. The single memory I have that can be conjured up in my mind’s eye at the most surprising moments is screaming at the top of my lungs on the corner across from my kindergarten school as my mom held up my dress and dabbed bright orange methailade all over my skinned legs with that sponge-like, or hair-like applicator that came in a threatening dark brown bottle. I don’t remember where my brother was while I jumped around on my toes, my mom yelling at me to stand still getting more frustrated by the minute. But I know that he was sitting next to me when we were still in the car. The story has been told many different ways and two go like this: 1) I was too excited and anxious about getting to school and I opened the door and fell out before the car stopped; 2) I was excited about getting to school and I unlocked the car then my brother opened it up and gave me a shove. Each version of the story has something about me being “excited” to get to school and every story ends with me holding onto the car door for dear life as my mom slowed the car to a stop. And then the methailade. And the screaming.
My mom calmly walked me into my classroom that morning, my face tangled and wet, my legs missing skin and stained orange. She kissed me goodbye and left me standing there silent. I don’t know what happened between that time and when she later came back to get me. She has told me that her “nerves were shot” after I fell out of the car and she was just moving through the motions of the morning routine when suddenly it occurred to her that she left me at school skinless and silent. Jumping in her blue Pontiac LeMans and speeding back to Sharpsburg Elementary School in Norwood, Ohio, she signed me out and took me home.
I’m not sure where home was, somewhere in Norwood I imagine – maybe living with my great grandmother “Granny” who had the tallest bed with the softest feather ticking you’ve ever seen. We stayed with her some, I do remember that. Maybe home was the apartment on Montgomery Road where my grandmother recently told me she forced my mother to move out of when she came to visit one Saturday morning in the winter and the hallway floors were covered with ice and all of us were cold because the building didn’t have any heat. My mom was a single mother of two. I was four. John was two. She did everything she could to be independent, including working two full-time jobs and dropping me off at school with orange-dyed legs and tear-swollen eyes. She probably had to go to work that morning and the frustration grew as she thought about missing a day’s pay and what would have to be left unpaid as a result.
The year was 1976 and children had to be five years old before entering kindergarten unless they were able to pass a qualifying “test” to enter as a four-year-old. I was four until my birthday in October. I passed the test. Maybe because public school was cheaper than childcare, maybe because my mom thought I was anxious to get to school and that I was (of course) brilliant, maybe because of a complex combination of these two and other reasons. Anyway, I entered kindergarten at age four in a tiny building that was made especially for kindergarteners. The child’s garden. Separate from the other children, separate playgrounds, separate entryways, separate hallways, separate principals. Separate. Protected. A place to grow into a person who might enter the institution of school and manage to climb up the social class ladder – the one missing rungs near the bottom – the one with oil-slopped rungs toward the middle – the one with prickly-thorned rungs on the top.

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