stephanie jones

Posts Tagged ‘social class’

Away From Competition and Toward Peace

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm
Words fail me when I hear of violence in schools, and the unspeakable events that unfolded yesterday in Connecticut seem like a horrible nightmare – a dream gone terribly wrong. Children and adults – likely trying to protect the children – victims of the most horrific kind of events we can’t even imagine. My cousin’s 4th grade child was in a nearby school under lockdown. Some of you may have connections to this devastating event too, but even those who have no concrete ties find themselves weeping or staring silently – some things we do when our language fails us.
This morning I received an Open Letter to the President of the United States (see below). The letter might hit home for some of you like it did me. How can we make school about creating “winners” of all children and youth? Why is competition so much a part of the schooling experience, and what values are we indoctrinating young people into when we hold competition up as a way to reward a very small number of “winners” and create massive amounts of “losers” at the same time? What kind of humanity do we want in the world, and how can we model that in schools? If a child’s world ended today, what do you wish you would have done differently in the classroom with him or her?
All my best,
December 14, 2012
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
“Contrary to popular opinion, the many school shootings have not been random acts of violence; they have been normal acts of violence, built into educational systems that encourage win-lose behavior, especially success at the expense of others.”
Dear Mr. President:
Some years ago I once accepted an invitation to be a judge in a local middle school’s Social Science Fair Contest. Wanting to know what I had gotten myself into, I made it a point to review the 30 or so student entries on display well before the judging got underway. To my surprise, I found each entry’s content noteworthy, in spite of a few grease spots here and there. Each entry stood as “a class act,” I said to a teacher nearby. Pleased, the teacher repeated my comment to other teachers.
Soon after the judging got underway, an odd uneasiness formed in my gut. For some reason I could not state at the time, I was fretting having to contribute to judging one entry “First Place Winner,” one entry “Second Place Winner,” and one entry “Third Place Winner.” The day after the contest the odd uneasiness in the gut gave way to this nagging question: What wisdom was there in deliberately making losers of so many children?
Sometimes we are fortunate to encounter opportunities that allow us to examine our values and the things we do and hold dear. In the face of such opportunities we will either defend our values or, with eyes wide open and ears clicked on, attempt to learn and develop and change for the better.
That day, the Social Science Fair Contest opened my eyes and forced my ears on so that I might experience learning competition among youngsters in a new, revealing way. I suspect it was the unmistakable expressions of dejection on the faces of the contest losers that made me see and hear differently. Even the second and third place winners strained to put on a happy face, which showed me they, too, saw themselves as losers. Moreover, I plainly saw that the “First Place Winner” had attained recognition at the expense of all the other contestants, a God-awful lesson for a child to learn about learning and, perhaps more importantly, to learn to see other human beings as obstacles to personal success.
Overall, I saw the event as that of adults inculcating within children the adults’ win-lose values based seemingly on the belief system that even in school, as in life elsewhere, there must be winners and losers, that a few children deserve to win and most children deserve to lose.
Left wondering how many potential social scientists I had helped derail that day, I reluctantly took responsibility for my part in the competition then asked my inner being for forgiveness. In the end, that day was a day of personal transformation. Consequently, I vowed to advocate against and never again be a party to events that aim to turn kids into losers through arbitrary and capricious competition.
Case in point: a recent year’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and legacy featured middle school children in a “Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Writing Contest.” Where is the wisdom in turning the many children into essay writing losers in the name of Dr. King? I suggest there is none. When did Dr. King ever stand to make anybody a loser? I suggest he never did. An Essay Writing Collaboration in which every student would aim to contribute to every other student’s success and joy in writing would have been a far more fitting celebration of Dr. King’s birth and legacy.
Legislators, Boards of Education, and top school administrators must come to examine their contributions to the nearly imperceptible yet continual demoralization of K-12 school students by way of learning competition. A very real unintended consequence is the near complete destruction of children’s intrinsic motivation for learning in school. To protect themselves, if only in their own eyes, many kids will drop out of school or commit violent acts rather than submit to loser status.
Once they have destroyed children’s intrinsic motivation and trust in school sufficiently, albeit unintentionally, educational leaders have only extrinsic motivators — ironically, more competition, reward programs, motivational speakers, role models, school reform, high expectations, zero tolerance, accountability, etc. — to address the problem.
Heavy reliance upon extrinsic motivation reflects a failure to understand that children were born motivated to learn. To see this, go get an infant, anybody’s. Then risk blindness by peering deep into the fire in child’s eyes. Wonderfully amazing, those neurons firing!
Educational leaders need only learn what the educational systems for which they are responsible have been doing to gradually put out the inborn fire in children’s eyes and stop doing it. Hence, high on educational leaders’ list of obnoxious utterances should be “every child can learn” and such.  Of course, every child can learn. That should never be an issue.
On the one hand, invariably, the few winner kids who grow up mostly on extrinsic motivation will learn to perpetuate win-lose behavior as normal behavior, the way the “real world” works.
On the other hand, invariably, the many loser kids who grow up mostly on extrinsic motivation will learn to take on self-protective behaviors generally not conducive to anybody’s well being, including their own. The continuing epidemic of school shootings exemplifies this behavior, in the extreme.
Contrary to popular opinion, the many school shootings have not been random acts of violence; they have been normal acts of violence, built into educational systems that encourage win-lose behavior, especially success at the expense of others.  Neither have the many school shootings been senseless violence; in each case, the shooter acted quite rationally in devising and carrying out a plan to “win.”  Thus it is quite silly to continue blaming parents and teachers and otherwise holding them accountable for the damage being done to children by our educational system itself that reflects adults’ win-lose value system, however benignly or well-intentioned.
An editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, published a while back, opined: “Responsibility for education should rest with the parents.” As supporting evidence, the article’s author related: “[A parent] was commenting after [the parent’s son, 13,] defeated 100 other contestants from across the state to win the Georgia Geography Bee ….”
Now, how many once budding geographers, geologists, and maybe lexicographers have since turned their interests elsewhere in order to shake off the “loser” label bestowed upon them during the pursuit of just one winner?
The author’s words can be revealing. Cut away the context words then some of the win-lose thematic words that exemplify the scourge upon K-12 education, public and otherwise, become clear. “Defeated.” “Contestants.” “Win.” These are concepts and behaviors about competition imposed upon students by the educational system itself. These are concepts and behaviors for producing far too few winners and far too many losers, by design. These are concepts and behaviors that reflect the value system whereby children, of all people, must be beaten down and demoralized before being deemed worthy to rise. Nonsense.
Clearly, today’s world demands as many winners as possible, not a many losers as possible. By managing them as athletic-style competitions with attendant rankings and such, our K-12 educational systems cannot possibly help produce the many winners the world needs.
Ed Johnson
cc: Open distribution  
Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 |

Underprivileged children, adopted puppies, and self-satisfied do-gooders

In anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, Education Policy, satire as critical literacy, teacher education resources on September 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Okay, I love The Onion which is satire at its best and “not intended for readers under the age of 18,” but of course I don’t even know how to rate my own blog posts  and sometimes cringe at some of my own content when I receive comments that seem to be from younger adolescents who are searching for answers to their school problems and find my blog helpful. So who am I to judge such slippery notions as age-appropriateness or – even worse in schools – “levels” of reading?

Enough of that, I don’t know how I missed this satirical reporting of young privileged college-educated people sacrificing themselves in service of “underprivileged” children as their volunteer (or, even paid) teachers: My Year of Volunteering as a Teacher

welfare brat by mary childers

In American Dream, classism, creativity, families, family-school relations, gender and education, great books, language, mothers, personal narratives, poverty, professional development resources, social class, teacher education resources, Uncategorized on August 1, 2008 at 3:03 am

I’ll be adding this book to my list of terrific reads that explore the complexities of social mobility through education. Childers’ memoir is beautifully written even when she’s writing about her teenage rage directed at her mother and painful realizations caught up in the tricky web woven between gratitude and desire, loyalty and resentment, love and fear, school and home. Some of the most insightful moments for educators might be in her writing about language use, clothing, and eye contact as she crosses the threshold into middle-class Manhattan to work as a teen and downplays desires to attend college to maintain peer relationships. Interchanges between Childers and her guidance counselor would also make for interesting dialogue, as well as the variety of ways her siblings experience mobility – and how sexuality, lies/truths, language, and relationships buttress such mobility.

Brava Childers!

Rich read aloud chapter books/working-class stories by Barbara O’Connor

In communities, families, family-school relations, fiction, great books, poverty, professional development resources, social class, teacher education, teacher education resources, teaching reading on July 20, 2008 at 9:40 pm

I discovered Barbara O’Connor this summer and have zipped through three of her young adult short novels – all of which I would read aloud to children in the early grades. Hayden loved Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia and Taking Care of Moses and I read Moonpie and Ivy on my own (reading aloud takes so much longer than reading to myself…). Each of these three books are richly contextualized in the daily lives of working-class and poor characters while none of them are overtly about social class. You won’t find the more typical “overcoming adversity” stories here, but rather nuanced narratives of love, desire, loss, grief, anxiety, anger, friendship, and all the other complexities of living as humans. Hayden and I love the characters – it’s rare to find a book for children with tattooed big-hearted men, aluminum-can collecting dads, or mothers who have reached their mothering limits within a context where everything costs more money than she has and no one nearby can help much. But such characters fill the pages of O’Connor’s stories, and I have enjoyed them immensely. I’ll likely seek out her other books as well…

Anonymous adjunct paints himself into a classed corner

In anti-bias teaching, classism, professional development resources, social class, teacher education, teacher education resources on June 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

This article was first printed in the Atlantic Monthly in June and then reprinted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (where I first read it) on Sunday June 15, 2008. There’s already a bit of discussion about the article on blogs including Education and Class and Mike Rose’s blog so I have to add some here myself.

As you read the article and various comments related to it, think about social class, opportunity, privilege, and marginalization. And don’t forget Power. The anonymous writer who describes himself as an adjunct working two jobs claims he doesn’t want to seem “classist” like the Brits or “sexist” but yet continues to paint a picture of his first-year-college-students (and perhaps first-generation college students) as uneducated, disengaged, and unable to absorb even the most simple concepts from his course. Never once does he consider that it might be his own “deficits” (a word he claims to like) about teaching and learning and his own underpreparedness and miseducation that might have led him to this impasse with the students sitting in his class.

Isn’t it just like the archetype “teacher” in our society to fail at teaching and then blame the students?

Get a grip pal. The second job you took on to pay your bills is one that comes with much privilege and power and it seems you are failing miserably at using yours in the best interest of hopeful, faithful, tuition-paying students who are looking to you for some leadership, guidance, and education. When did teaching stop being inspirational? Motivational? Energizing?

If you just needed a second job, go get one where you’re not messing with people’s lives.

Truth is, you are classist, just like most folks in the U.S., and it sounds like you are doing much more damage than good to the students, their experiences with institutions, and to the institution itself.

Do us all a favor: learn to teach or get out.

And don’t write anonymous articles that only further inscribe society’s classist perceptions of success, failure, and the value of human beings.

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