stephanie jones

Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

What is education for? Getting beyond “a good job”

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, creativity, democracy, discourse, freedom, inquiry, justice, language, politics, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on February 27, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Only recently have I turned my ear toward the discourse of “why” students need or should want an education. I’m stunned, however, by the saturation of the topic with the “to get a good job” discourse.  Most of you out there are likely reading this wondering what rock I’ve been hiding under…but here I am shaking my head in bewilderment wondering what business second graders, fourth graders, sixth graders have thinking their whole life of schooling is for a “job.”

After being in many classrooms, talking to teachers and my university students about what education is for, and hearing many parent-child and teacher-student conversations like “stay in school…get a good job” from all social class backgrounds, I’m trying my best to insert some equally-important options within this otherwise authoritative discourse on what education is for:

What about creativity? Can education be about learning to create? Learning the possibilities of what a creative mind and body can do?

What about social action? Can education be learning about social injustices and working to organize and change those injustices?

What about self-fulfillment? Can education be finding something that makes us happy, filled with passion, willing to work and work at it because it’s fulfilling in and of itself?

What about the journey of becoming a whole person? Can education be about learning and doing in ways that helps me continue on the journey to become a whole person, with knowledge about myself, my history, my shared experiences with others, my interests, my dreams – and the know-how to follow those dreams (whatever they may be)?

What about freedom? Can education be about studying, researching, gaining knowledge and multiple perspectives of that knowledge to be emotionally and intellectually free from the oppressive structures in our society? And to work against anti-freedom practices, beliefs, structures.

These are just a few possibilities off the top of my head – I’d love to hear about others that have been, and can be, overtly inserted into the discourse of education. It would be great if children, teachers, adults, and all of us could have a robust vocabulary around what education is for…beyond getting “a good job.” All good jobs, my friends, don’t lead toward feeling whole, fulfilled, powerful, etc. In fact, many jobs don’t. So let’s let education be a place where the “job” doesn’t restrict ideas of what a person can be.


I’m tired.

In classism, justice, racism, sexism on February 26, 2008 at 3:02 am

Perhaps we all have days like this, I don’t know. But I’m feeling weary. Wondering what the hell  another article will do. Or another presentation. Or another book. Or another convention. Wondering what difference even another class session will make.

Is it too much to ask that people treat one another with basic respect and dignity? I don’t understand how we’ve gotten here, to this horrible place where racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and every other -ism is so rampant, so hurtful, so damaging.

I’m tired.

Learning from Denmark? Rethinking compulsive consumerism and the “American Dream”

In American Dream, freedom, justice, social class on February 18, 2008 at 12:56 am

Sunday evening’s 60 Minutes (CBS) reported on the “happiest people” on earth. The Danes have, again, been reported as the “happiest.” Reporters wondered why given that a neighbor, Norway, is richer and another neighbor, Sweden, is healthier.

This story  tells of some unthinkable (at least in the U.S.) social services in place in Denmark that may (?) promote persistent happiness:

1. Average work week of 37 hours with 6 weeks vacation a year

2. State-paid paternity leave for 6 months

3. State-paid education through college degree (students take as long as they want/need to complete their college education)

4. “Security” from birth until death (financial, education, social)

What’s the catch?

Perhaps the taxes paid…around 50% earnings.

Would we, in the U.S. be willing to contribute 50% of our earnings to ensure the well-being of all our citizens?

I would.

The story also reported that some of the most unhappy people live in the wealthiest zip codes in the U.S. (Upper Eastside of Manhattan was one example). What might this tell us?

“Stuff” won’t make us happy. Stop the compulsive consumerism and judgments based on possessions.

What advice did the interviewed students give to U.S. folks looking for “happiness”? Don’t depend too much on the American Dream.

Denmark Ministry of Social Welfare 

Teaching “tolerance” / Anti-bias teaching

In anti-bias teaching, critical literacy, democracy, Holocaust, inquiry, justice, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources, teaching reading, teaching writing on February 17, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Karen Spector gave a fabulous invited talk to students in my undergrad course (integrated curriculum) at UGA last week. Two days before her talk we viewed Paper Clips, the popular documentary about a school in Tennessee that engaged the Holocaust for four years and included a school-community, local-global social action project resulting in a permanent memorial being constructed at the school. The memorial is now used as a site for educational tours which are planned and guided by middle school students.

As a class we were looking at the film from the perspective of an integrated curricular experience that lasted a long period of time and we asked questions about what subject areas were integrated and how, what further integration might have taken place, whose perspectives are represented in the Holocaust study and whose perspectives were missing, what tenets of critical literacy were apparent, how the students came to study the Holocaust, etc.

Karen offered us more questions to ask ourselves:

Why are the “ghosts of the Holocaust” regularly awakened for “us” (whoever that may         be) to learn about tolerance?

What might have been learned if the students had moved their study of intolerance and         hatred to their local contexts and researched the community to better understand             why there weren’t Jews, Catholics, African Americans, or Latinos living there?

What might have been learned if the students studied the history of Anti-Semitism in             Christianity?

What symbolism is employed in the film (crosses, paper clips, rail car, etc.), and how                 can that symbolism be read from multiple perspectives?

One of the questions, “Why are the ghosts of the Holocaust regularly awakened…for the study of tolerance?” has stuck with me for some time (Karen and I are friends, so I’ve heard this before;). Some of my undergraduates had fabulous insight when responding to the question including thoughts such as the U.S. can be portrayed as a “savior” of sorts since many soldiers were involved in the liberation of many concentration camps (albeit 6 million people too late), that the hatred and intolerance of the Holocaust can be couched as historic and therefore a lesson we’ve already learned (ignoring ongoing genocide and human rights violations around the world…including serious hatred and intolerance in our own country), and an overall furthering of “us” versus “them” who would allow such tragedies to take place to begin with.

So…why is it that the Holocaust is awakened for our own purposes? And should we continue to do so?

The French President seems to believe the ghosts of the youngest victims should be awakened in ways that would mark the education of every fifth grader in France.

And other stories have been asking for years what we’re doing about the present-day holocaust in Africa. Perhaps much like the Jewish Holocaust, stories of murders by the millions remain “Buried by the Times” while we educate our children about the horrible tragedies that happened long before their births.

There are so many ways to study, understand, and do something about hatred and intolerance – both local and global ways – and this website offers some great ideas.

Fight hatred.

Fight bias.


Teaching Reading and Writing: Kyle Part II

In inquiry, professional development resources, teacher education resources, teaching reading, teaching writing on February 13, 2008 at 4:52 am

Turning Assumptions into Inquiries
Kyle’s teacher has had much training (both socially and, perhaps, through formal education) in recognizing “problems” with students, diagnosing those problems, and remediating those problems. For his teacher, a lack of engagement in school reading and writing was immediately read as a coping strategy for a learning disability that was yet to be diagnosed and remediated. To further complicate things, recent media attention to violence in schools had placed pressure on teachers to analyze student artwork and writing in particular to recognize and flag any indication that a student may have psychopathic tendencies that may, hypothetically, result in some kind of violent behaviors. Kyle’s teacher, then, has been persistently positioned as someone who must be on the look-out for problems.
The simple question, “What does Kyle say about his drawings?” aims at turning-around a teacher’s positioning, to go to students for information about what’s going on in their schooling experiences rather than relying on outside forces to “frame” and then label a student’s performance in a classroom. This turning around of a teacher’s positioning toward inquirer of students can lead to turning around classroom pedagogy, which can lead to turning around a student’s trajectory as a reader that is headed in the wrong direction.

The following Wednesday this same concerned, frustrated, well-intended teacher on the verge of reporting a student for violent tendencies in his drawings and going to special educators to begin a process to have him identified as learning disabled, came prancing into her professional development group with a writer’s notebook in her hand. Smiling from ear to ear she reached the notebook to me and enthusiastically said, “He is totally into Anime.”

“Ohhhhh,” I said, knowingly.

“And when I told him I didn’t know what that was, he couldn’t believe it. He wrote a fourteen-page informational narrative all about Anime.”

“Ohhhhh?” I said, raising my eyebrows and smiling.

This fifth grade teacher experienced, in her own words, a great epiphany during
her conversation with Kyle: “I am making assumptions about students I don’t really know.” Turning her position around from problem-finder and problem-solver to that of inquirer, interviewer, curious investigator changed this teacher’s perception of herself, her job, and her students.

Fun using films…

In classism, critical literacy, justice, language, mothers, social action, social class, teacher education, teacher education resources on February 10, 2008 at 4:44 am

Spanglish This popular film set in California offers a great deal in terms of issues around social class, language, public/private education, and ethnicity. As you watch, consider who wields power, how, and to what end. Consider how class, gender, ethnicity, and language intersect in constructing characters who are better positioned to wield power and characters positioned to wield less power. Think about how complexities around social class and language come together to construct tensions between a mother and daughter. And consider all of these issues as they relate to contemporary contexts of schooling across the United States. Who is acting as the “Savior” in the movie, and what are some of the complicated results of that action? Who, in contemporary educational contexts (particularly primary, elementary, middle, and secondary schools) act in similar “Savior” roles and is it possible that complicated results of such actions are taking place without the Savior noticing? There is an infinite number of ways to think about this film – these are just a few…have fun!

Super Tuesday State?

In democracy, freedom, politics on February 5, 2008 at 3:41 am

Go vote.

Yes, the election process is only one marker of democracy in our country and perhaps the more important things we do are the daily interactions we have with people that work toward democratic living, but we should all still vote.

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