Connecting Apple’s and Girioux’s Views on Democracy

Jen: Connecting Apple’s and Girioux’s Views on Democracy

            Both Girioux and Apple argue that schools need to take more action in examining social inequalities in their curriculum.  For example, Apple argues that in discussions of the September 11th attacks this central question needs to be examined: “How could one condemn the murderous events, give one’s students a historical and political framework that puts these events in their larger critical context, and provide a serious forum where disagreement and debate could go on fruitfully…and at the same time not be seen as justifying the attacks” (Apple, p. 493).  He promotes that Americans need to critically examine their society and what past policies put these events into context.  Apple views true democracy as critically examining one’s country’s actions and states that “democracy that welcomes dissent as itself is a form of patriotic commitment” (Apple, p. 497).

            Like Apple’s view on democracy, Girioux also sees true democracy as questioning the status quo and that schools should be a part of this.  Girioux wants teacher education colleges to focus more on “the critical study of power, language, history, and culture” (Girioux, p. 448).  Girioux sees “schooling as part of an ongoing struggle for democracy” (Girioux, p. 440) and believes that schools should help students become better citizens, address social inequalities, and exam how schools help to reproduce them (Girious, p. 446). 

            I find it interesting the way both authors view democracy. Often, democracy is seen in the United States as agreeing with whatever your government decides to show your patriotism.  I find it refreshing to read two articles in which patriotism is not defined as a blind following to a country’s leadership but that real patriotism is being a good citizen and being critical of your country’s decisions.  Often, Girioux’s and Apple’s view on patriotism is seen as lacking in loyalty.  However, how could critically examining the choices around you and advocating for the choice you believe is most equitable be unpatriotic?  The United States’ Constitution is founded in amendments that frame the different ways people can protest to create change and lay a blue print for a process for change and amendments to the Constitution to occur.  So how can following the processes that are laid out in our constitution be seen as unpatriotic?  I have many family members in the Marine Corps or the Army.  I support them and feel that since their job is to follow orders and they do not have the ability to weigh in on the decisions that they are forced to carry out, it is our job to take a critical look at country’s decisions since they cannot.

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Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling

In his article, “Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling,” Giroux lucidly delves into the debate regarding the philosophical purpose of education. Giroux firmly believes that educational institutions play a vital role in the ongoing struggle for democracy, in that they are agencies of equality and justice that call for a redistribution of power and authority while simultaneously cultivating cultural diversity. Disturbed by the “ideological surgery” currently being performed on our public schools, Giroux accuses “new conservatives” of “capitalizing upon the waning confidence . . . in the effectiveness of public schools” to initiate an educational reform that would recall public education’s traditional “utopian mission” in “favor of a narrowly defined labor market perspective.” Perceiving education as “economic rather than political” leads to defining schools by “measuring its utility against its contribution to economic growth and cultural uniformity,” where “authority derives from technical expertise and culture embodies an idealized tradition that glorifies hard work, industrial discipline, domestic desire, and cheerful obedience.” Taking on the role of “the other,” how often have you heard resistant students (and teachers) question: How will learning about “Canterbury Tales” help me get a job? or, I want to be a mechanic, what does learning about poetry have to do with my future? In a world of economic instability and cut-throught competition, it is hard to argue against devoting our time in school to equip our students with the skills they will need to gain employment and pursue the “American dream.” What good is being able to identify social oppression and the ailing maladies of our country, when you are unemployed and your most marketable skill-set is having a strong command of Old English? 

Giroux criticizes public school teachers “less than vigorous” participation in the current debate (perhaps because they are too exhausted as Todd noted), which has been isolated to the state level, preventing teachers from shaping the conditions under which they work. The result: systematized evaluation schemes, management-oriented policymakers, and “teacher-proof” prepackaged curriculum that can be applied to any classroom context. Consequently, “eroding the authority and intellectual integrity of the teachers” only reinforces the perception that teachers are merely “semiskilled, low-paid workers in a mass production of education” and reduces learning to “the memorization of narrowly defined facts and isolated pieces of information that can easily be measured and evaluated.” It is apparent that this philosophical model has taken hold of our current education system, as individual schools seem to be consistently reacting to omniscient policymakers who routinely adjust their increasingly systematic, standardized educational model (i.e. new teacher evaluation system, Common Core, MCAS), pushing the unique student aside and blatantly ignoring individual schools and their respective faculty. Yet, without measurable tools to assess our students, teachers, and schools, what is our alternative? How can administrators identify if students are making progress on a school, district, or national scale if all measures are qualitative?  

Giroux provides us with various ways to remedy this “ideological surgery” being performed on our national education system, particularly by addressing the role and the training of the educator within the teaching profession. In contrast to earlier perceptions identifying a teacher as a “routine worker” under the expert direction of various school administrators who would require forms of training that would “virtually undermine the development of teachers as critically minded intellectuals,” Giroux argues that teachers must be perceived as “transformative intellectuals,” referring to “one who exercises forms of intellectual and pedagogical practice that attempts to insert teaching and learning directly into the political sphere by arguing that schooling represents both a struggle for meaning and a struggle over power relations.” Schools of education, Giroux claims, are not intended “to serve and reproduce the existing society,” rather they must challenge “the social order so as to develop and advance its democratic imperatives.” 

Furthermore, Giroux demands that teachers know more than the subject matter they will be teaching (i.e. the sociology of school cultures, the meaning of the hidden curriculum, a politics of knowledge and power, a philosophy of school/state relationship, and a sociology of teaching). In defining public schools as “democratic public spheres” dedicated to self- and social empowerment that centers its activities on critical inquiry, meaningful dialogue, and the discourse of public association and civic responsibility, Giroux states that teachers must grasp “cultural politics” to be successful educators. This entails concepts relating to power, language, history, and culture. Teachers must, Giroux recommends, take the problems and needs of the students themselves as a starting point, and provide students with a sense of voice and identity, as well as the critical knowledge and skills necessary for them to examine their own particular lived experiences and cultural resources. This allows students to draw on their own language and histories, and ultimately validates students’ experience in order to empower them. To accomplish this, teachers must become aware of both the transformative strengths and structures of oppression of the community and develop this awareness into curriculum strategies designed to empower students toward creating a more liberating and humane society. 

There are many teachers who agree with these statements, but there are also a number I have spoken with who do not. What of the teacher who love the subject they teach, and do not wish to be catalysts for change. What of the “mediocre” teacher who comes in and simply teachers his or her content? What of the teacher who does not with to connect with the community of the students, but had a strong command of the classroom and the material? What of the teacher who believes that students must master specific skills and class time should not be spent selfishly examining their own lives? Are these teachers to be fired? Are teachers with these ideals to be blacklisted? 

 

  • What kinds of knowledge can educators provide to empower students to understand and engage the world around them as well as exercise the courage needed to change the social order where necessary?
  • What is the philosophical purpose of education? Is it an either/or question? Is it possible to equally value the economic and the political? Should one even consider attempting to blend the two?
  • Is the idea of a prepackaged, measurable curriculum a negative ideal? Assuming flexibility is permitted, would a prepackaged curriculum focused equitably on the political/economical spectrum be an aspirational ideal for public education?
  • How does one measure/assess a “democratic public sphere”? self- and social empowerment? public association? civic responsibility? 
  • Must teachers be connected to the communities in which they teach in order to become “transformative intellectuals” and effectively address the political struggle their students face? Does being connected mean physically living within the community? Is it possible to be connected if you are physically separated from the community? 

“Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom”

In his essay, “Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom: On the Educational Meanings of September 11,” Apple addresses the role of an educator in the aftermath of September 11. He discusses the need to balance the emotional responses of students with the need to critically examine the context of the event. He writes that, though the gut reactions after such a disaster may lead to anger, nationalism, and even jingoism, it is still important to engage in discourse about the events and policies that led to 9/11. This includes the question of why people would want to attack us. By looking at the event from multiple perspectives we can better understand (though not necessarily condone) the actions of the attackers. This critical discourse also prevents us from overly nationalistic or hyper-patriotic displays that ignore or attack anyone who disagrees with the government.

 

I think that Apple makes some interesting points about the way that democracy is changing in the wake of 9/11. In his description of the Madison, WI school board vote to uphold the school board’s decision to play the music of “The Star Spangled Banner” (without the militaristic words),  Apple describes the intimidation and animosity with which voters were met when they supported the school board’s decision. He describes how voters endured “quite personal attacks on their patriotism” as a result of them voicing their opinions (495). This election, Apple claims, forces upon people a certain brand patriotism, leaving no room for people who disagree with the militaristic overtones of the national anthem or for people who disagree with the country’s politics. This enforced patriotism Apple argues, flies in the face of true democracy; enforced patriotism lends no voice to dissent, despite the fact that democracy means debate and dialogue with other schools of thought. According to Apple, these “nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-cosmopolitan, anti-communist, promilitary” and religiously conservative views crop up during times of crises(495). Based on Apple’s (brief) description of the historical and political context leading up to 9/11, these narrow viewpoints create a vicious cycle in which people become desperate to get their point across, even when making that point can seriously harm others.

 

Overall, I think Apple makes a good argument for teachers to not only address the emotional aspects of what students are experiencing after a crisis such as 9/11, but also to examine the context and framework of the event. If democracy truly allows for dissent, students should be able to examine the situation from all sides in order to form and advocate for their own opinions while also engaging in dialogue with others. By teaching this democratic system, as opposed to relying on enforced patriotism, we can perhaps work to minimize the need to intimidate or attack opponents, both on a local and a global level.

 

Some questions:

 

Do you think enforced patriotism is the new democracy?

 

How can we, as teachers, create a safe space in our classrooms to discuss events such as 9/11 or the marathon bombings? Do you believe that we should discuss these events in our classrooms?

What does Apple mean when he says that “democracy and freedom both act as sliding signifiers” (496)?

-Jessi

Make Up Assignment from 6/6/13

Jen:

Make-Up Assignment for 6/6/13:

Connection Between Today’s Deficit Thinking about the Education of Minority Students (6/6/13) and Confronting Class in the Classroom (6/11/13)

 

            Both Hooks and Valencia and Solorzano’s articles focus on issues of class, race, and social mobility.  Valencia and Solorzano argue that “deficit thinking” attributes students not doing well in school to the fact that their parents don’t care or the “culture of poverty” has created negative attitudes towards school.  However, they argue that this blames students for a situation that they did not create (Valencia and Solorzano, p. 125).  They argue that most people think the cause of poverty is personal behavior and choices.  However, they are ignoring the bigger picture.  There are many causes of poverty and it is unfair to attribute all poverty due to personal laziness (Valencia and Solorzano, p 128). Valencia and Solorzano cite many reasons for poverty, including decreasing employment opportunities for people due to globalization and the outsourcing of jobs overseas (Valencia and Solorzano, p. 129).  In fact, an article in the Washington Post called Five Myths About American Homelessness, published in 2010, sites a study in 2002 by the Urban Institute showing that about 45% of the homeless population had worked in the past 30 days.  This does not show laziness. 

            When students from working class families enter college, Hooks notes that the “deficit thinking” that Valencia and Solorzano noticed does not stop.  Hooks states that working-class students are silenced by “bourgeois values” and that their opinions are not being heard (Hooks, p. 136).  Hooks notes that debating different opinions loudly can sometimes be looked down upon in the classroom but for many working class students, it is a way of getting actively involved in the content (Hooks, p. 140).

            Though I liked these articles, I do have some criticisms.  I wish that Hooks gave more specific examples about what types of values were important to working-class students that they felt were not reflected in the classroom.  I also wish she gave some specific examples to remedy this instead of just the one about having students read a paragraph out loud.  Though I agree with Valencia and Solorzano that “deficit thinking” prevents us from thinking about the positive qualities our students have, I do not agree that the term “at-risk” should never be used.  I think it is important to identify when students are “at-risk”, not to put them down, but to acknowledge what they are struggling with and what specific supports they need to improve.  Without identifying this, we are doing our students a disservice and depriving them of helpful services.  Thinking of a student as “at-risk” does not mean they are viewed negatively, it is more a way of thinking about what they are struggling with and what supports they need to be successful. 

Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom

Jen: Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom: On the Educational Meanings of September 11

In this article, Apple argues that in the wake of the tragedy of September 11th, as a teacher and a U.S. citizen, it is important to do two things.  The first is to create space to express anger, sadness, and frustration about the attack and what happened to our country.  The second is to ask critical questions about why people in the world had such negative feelings towards the United States (Apple, p. 491).  Apple poses some serious questions about approaching the latter without justifying the attacks.  Apple asks, “How could one condemn the murderous events, give one’s students a historical and political framework that puts these events in their larger critical context, and provide a serious forum where disagreement and debate could go on fruitfully…and at the same time not be seen as justifying the attacks” (Apple, p. 493).  I agree with Apple that these are very tricky questions to ask in the wake of such a tragedy.  However, I also think they are important to ask because the answers prevent people from developing generalizations that link all people from the Middle East to the mindset of those that committed the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Apple’s idea of giving students space to vent should be the first step.  After they have a chance to get their frustrations out, I think a very common question that many students will ask is “Why do they hate us?”  I think the only way this question can be answered is by looking at the historical relationships between countries and U.S. foreign policy.  This promotes more of an accurate of understanding of what Apple is trying to get at- “to ask critical questions about why people in the world had such negative feelings towards the United States” (Apple, p. 491).

One particular part of Apple’s article that I found interesting was when he talked about the school board in Wisconsin that came under criticism for only allowing the instrumental version of the Star Spangled Banner to be played because they felt playing an anthem with lines such as “bombs bursting in air” might not be appropriate after the attacks on September 11th.  This came under criticism as being unpatriotic, so eventually the board decided to allow each individual community to make the choice whether to play the anthem with the actual words or just the instrumental version.  Apple said, “This decision defused the controversy in a way that has a long history in the United States.  Local decisions will prevail, but there is not guarantee that the decisions at each local school will uphold a vision of thick democracy that welcomes dissent as itself a form of patriotic commitment” (Apple, p. 497).  I agree with Apple that this mentality has a long history in the United States.  For a long time, the term “states’ rights” was used as a cover for states that wanted to continue slavery and that if the government abolished slavery, it would intrude on “states’ rights.”  In this case, states’ rights were used in a way that did not uphold democracy and human rights.

I agree with Apple that the best way to show patriotism and commitment to your nation is to critically think about and question what is going on (Apple, p. 497).  Those that truly love their country want to hold it to high standards and make sure it is a place where people are truly treated equally.

American Indian Geographies of Identity and Power

Sandy Marie Anglas Grande’s article looks at a myriad of issues around American Indian identity, education and intellectualism. Like other articles we have read about for class, Grande questions the power roles that schools (and popular culture/literature) reinforce. Just as schools adhere to middle-class ideals, Grande argues that schools also disenfranchise indigenous groups and minorities. She believes that American Indians have disparate struggles from other minority groups because they want sovereignty rather than full-on inclusion in democracy.

 Much of the article deals with cultural identity and Grande’s beliefs that critical cultural identity is not static – socio-cultural identities are rooted in history and socially constructed. I would agree with this, and I think we could offer examples of groups that were marginalized to different degrees in different points of history. Grande points to the term mestizaje – meaning cultural ambiguity. However, while Grande does not want American Indian identity to be boiled to essentialness, she also recognizes that any efforts must have a clear understanding of American Indians. She says we must be comfortable operating with fluidity to achieve true reform.

 One of the most interesting parts of the article was the section about “Identity Appropriation” where she looked at the struggles around who can identify as American Indian and why they might want to.  By reducing identity to fixed parameters (such as land ownership) American Indians are quantifying themselves, which “becomes deeply complicated….having to respond to growing pluralism in their own communities and thus the need to define more fluid constructions of Indianness, while also recognizing the pressures of identity appropiation, cultural encroachment, and corporate commodification require more restrictive constructions of Indianness.” (pg 190)

 There is a really interesting “This American Life” episode that looks at one tribe in California that for years wanted to attract and welcome “new” identifiers to their tribe, but after their casino money was running low (among other issues), kicked out a numbers of members. You can read a New York Times article here. It begs the question of how do we label anyone’s cultural identity? Can cultural identity ever be defined by fixed terms, or does it depend on too many socio-historic factors? However, can we function as a society without labels?

 Grande argues that American Indian intellectuals need to expand their discourse and take into account issues of oppression, racism, sexism and homophobia and to “develop a language that operates at the crossroads of unity and difference.” (pg. 196) An interesting note about Grande as an intellectual is that left a tenure track position at Colby College because she felt the school had institutional racism. I don’t know what else there is to the story, but that’s a fairly bold statement given the economy for academics.

 Questions to Ponder (easy stuff, I swear ;)):

  • Is “globalization the new metaphor for imperialism”? (pg 185)
  • Does mestizaje embody the struggles that many of our students face in their cultures?
  • Does American Indian intellectualism threaten the myth that genocide is in white America’s past?
  • How do we balance essentialness and fluidity in identity construction?

– Sue

Bringing Bilingual Education Out of the Basement

This is my third attempt since 5:30 to post this entry, so sorry to those of you who wanted to reply before the Bruins tie up the series tonight!

In “Bringing Bilingual Education Out of the Basement and Other Imperatives for Teacher Education,” Sonia Nieto argues that all teachers, not just ESL and bilingual teachers, must be trained in teaching language minority students. She says that the majority of teacher education programs train teachers for monolingual classrooms, but in reality, whether one teaches in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, it is unlikely to go a teaching career without instructing students for whom English is a second language. Nieto goes on to say that teacher education programs, beyond providing prospective teachers with classroom strategies necessary for teaching language-minority students in a regular education setting, must most importantly “help teachers to develop positive attitudes and beliefs toward these students.” The three imperatives that Nieto gives for such programs are:

  1. Take a stand on language diversity
  2. Bring bilingual education out of the basement
  3. Promote teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation

On pages 471, she also gives a list of knowledge and skills that teachers must possess in order to effectively instruct language-minority students, which expands on page 472 if one happens to be an ESL teacher. One of the skills she spends the most time discussing is the suggestion that all teachers learn a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach. She mentions that this is not only a practice that will help put teachers in the shoes of students in the process of acquiring English but will also help teachers better understand and respond to the grammar errors that students make.

While I agree with both points, I am not sure that this is a plausible suggestion. While in a teacher education program, there is no way for a prospective teacher to know in what district let alone school he or she will begin teaching, so the second language acquisition could not happen then, and given the number of responsibilities that new teachers already have, it is difficult to imagine a new teacher taking on the added task of learning to speak a new language. One of my favorite quotes is, “Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.” Can you imagine learning Japanese to this scenario, let alone the fact that many new teachers find themselves moving from school-to-school or district-to-district during their first years of teaching due to budget cuts while at the bottom of the seniority list. This is only my third year teaching, and I would have already had to learn Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, Tagalog, and Spanish! To be honest, I would love to learn any one or more of these languages, but finding the time to do so is another story.

Taking a stand on language diversity:

Nieto argues that bilingual education is political, and I believe there is no denying this. One only has to scan the daily headlines, including this article in today’s Boston Globe to see how true this is. Not only is political action necessary to change negative perceptions of  language-minority students, but it is crucial to directing funds to these students in need. I love Nieto’s point about how the costs of teaching students a foreign language are rarely opposed in middle class neighborhoods, while ESL and bilingual budgets are seen as “too expensive or ‘wasteful’”(472).

Bringing bilingual education out of the basement:

The term “basement” in the title of this article is used both literally and figuratively to suggest that language-minority students are often relegated to the basement or other physically separated areas of the school. This separation not only creates a sense of alienation and marginalization for ESL students and teachers alike but also prevents collaboration with general education teachers while proliferating the belief that language-minority students are the sole responsibility of the ESL teacher. Nieto says that teacher education programs must emphasize language diversity issues and argues that currently, most do not. Probably because I participated in UMass Boston’s teacher education program which emphasizes social justice or because I was part of the Teach Next Year program which is geared towards urban education specifically, but I found these issues embedded throughout almost all of the coursework at UMass. Unfortunately I cannot speak to other programs on this issue, but I can say that I believe Nieto would wholeheartedly approve of the job that UMass does in this regard.

One comment that Nieto makes which annoyed me, however, can be found on page 475. She says, “It is by now a truism that most prospective teachers are White, middle-class, monolingual English speaking women with little experience with people different from themselves.” Ok, I agree that this is probably by and far true. However, she goes on to say, “and most of them believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities.”  It is my understanding that most people go into teaching because they want to help kids learn skills that will allow them to succeed and ultimately make our world a better place to live without any preconceived notions or aspirations about the skin-color or socioeconomic makeup of their classroom. When I was attending job fairs before receiving my first teaching job, the longest lines (by far!) were formed my those dying to get an interview with the Boston Public Schools. While I agree with Nieto’s point that teacher education faculty could use diversification, I do not believe that White teachers or White teacher educators are blind to the civil rights issues inherent in our current education system or unwilling to bring them to the forefront of conversation.

Promoting teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation:

Here, Nieto describes a “collective and institutional journey” “to help teachers and prospective teachers affirm the linguistic, cultural, and experiential diversity of their students while at the same time opening up new vistas, opportunities, and challenges that expand their worlds (476). The ideas that she expounds include having teachers face and accept their own identities (including a status of privilege when applicable), establish an identity as a teacher-learner, become multilingual themselves, confront racism and bias in school, and develop a community to collaboratively support language-minority students in school. I agree that all of these are necessary to transform our current education system and ultimately remove bilingual education from “the basement.”

The first part of this section stuck out to me the most and reminded me of an amazing course I took at UMass Boston called Socio-Cultural Perspectives taught by Velecia Saunders. In this class, we had incredibly difficult and enlightening conversations about our own identities, biases, and privilege. The class was, at times, excruciating, but ultimately life-changing for all involved. So after leaving you will this recommendation, I now give you some questions to discuss:

  1. What does ESL instruction look like in your school? Are language-minority students relegated to the basement either literally or figuratively?
  2. What do you think of Nieto’s recommendation that all teachers learn to speak a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach?
  3. Do you agree with Nieto’s assessment that, “most [prospective teachers] believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities” (475)?
  4. What was your teacher education program like? Did you take any explicit classes on teaching ESL or bilingual students in a general education setting? Were these topics embedded into the majority or minority of your regular coursework? Was it mostly instructional strategies, or did it include discussions about attitude toward language-minority students and/or monolingual, White privilege?
  5.  Does your school or any school you know of have a successful community of “critical colleagues”? Is the group formal or informal? What does it look like?

-Leah