Saturday, April 5, 2014

Towards Democracy, and a Rich Classroom Community

FNED 346 

Dr. Bogad

After reading Christopher Kliewer’s article “Citizenship in School”  I could not help but think of every single other injustice we have been addressing in class.  From Johnson’s Privilege and the obvious SCWAAMP, (well only obvious to those who can’t claim these inherent privileges), to the culture and first languages of Kozol, Rodriguez, the marginalization of those who are different in their sexual orientation, to the stereotyping of princesses and princes, to segregation of class, race and community, and now this, tracking by disability.  Please tell me there isn’t anything else.
This article resonated with what started me down this teaching path to begin with.  There is mounting evidence that it is not who is in the classroom that matters, but how the classroom, the teacher, students, curriculum and real world relevance all function together as a community.  And happily this evidence also suggests that testing and grading is demeaning and detracts from true learning (Alfie Kohn).  So instead, good teachers should do less teaching, but instead become facilitators, with the goal of celebrating every child, and recognizing them as thinking creative individuals who add unique and valuable dimensions to the classroom.  Speaking to down syndrome, oft considered a disability, “To eliminate a single person through any form of banishment, no matter how benevolent the logic, reduces the web and makes the community a less democratic and less rich place.” (p.96)

(So we are ready next time. . . .for Dr. Bogad's bag of tricks! )

Shayne Robbins devotion to making the classroom a safe place for all students to learn, with the support from the families and the community, is a righteous model.  Had the disabled Down Syndrome children been labelled and then tracked by these labels, had they not been recognized as unique contributors to the classroom community, later in life they might have described their school experience as Mia Peterson did at the very beginning of this reading.

“I started to notice that I didn’t like the classes I was taking called special education.  I had to go through special ed. almost all my life.  I wanted to take other classes that interested me.  I had never felt so mad, I wanted to cry.” (Peterson, 1994, p.6)

Shayne Robbins' classroom was built on the recognition of the individuals’ value, the curriculum, and by creating a dialogue with the kids.  And it suggests that what is to be valued in a student needs to broaden. So that the meaning of “disability” applies less often if at all.  We saw in Jean Anyon’s research that the socio-economics of the families in a community and the resulting assumed intelligence of the students defined the atmosphere and teaching style in the classroom. And ultimately it affected the definition of success for these students.  In Robbin’s class room it did not.

In Brown Vs the board of education, the Supreme Court created federal legislation desegregated race in education.  It was the legal acknowledgement of the problem of race discrimination in schools.  The first step in addressing an issue is acknowledgement.  It is still a problem.  But it is time to desegregate schools and society for the able "disabled".

Several weeks ago, in my gym, I noticed we had a new trainer.  He has down syndrome.  The physical attributes give it away.  I have watched him, and he is no different than any other trainer in terms of his abilities.  This morning he give a client a big hug for something well done.  It warmed my heart.  Because THAT you don’t see from the other trainers, not with that kind of authentic affection.  I would love to meet this young man.

Years ago, in my daughter’s daycare, one of her class mates had a sister, a year older, with down syndrome.  Christina was treated no differently than anyone else by the children, the school, the community or her family.  About 10 years later, I ran into the family again as our girls began playing fast pitch in Apponaug.  This league allows anyone from anywhere in the state to play, and fathers did the coaching.  The camaraderie in the teams was one of the many joys of watching these kids play.  Going to the games and screaming at your kid was another!  (Not to mention you would be hard pressed to find a mother that didn’t secretly enjoy watching their daughter sitting in a cage).  But there was something very special about Christina’s team.  You couldn’t miss it.  They absolutely loved her, and she them.  All this a result of an entire community that made it a point to know Christina.

You cannot teach if you do not “know your students”.  This has been impressed upon me in every one of my classes.  (Remember our first day of FNED 346).  A visiting teacher shared with one of my other classes, that every year, during the first week, he negotiates the rules and norms of the classroom for as many days as it takes.  At the same time, he calls every parent or guardian to learn all he can about his new charges.  He creates an inclusive environment.  This aligns well with my approach to life. 

According to Kliewer  “. . . through community, self indulgence is cultivated and satisfied.”  In other words community is there for the individual to use for personal gain and future success.  But for the most part, privilege "for personal gain and future success" is still defined by SCWAAMP.  Too often, “those who appear to lack the potential to acquire privilege through community are devalued, seen as less capable and so “less than full citizens””.  So what of their future?   

The big idea here, is that we have to get along.  We have to want to get along.  “Douglas Biklen (1992) has outlined, society itself is hurt when schools act as cultural sorting machines - locations that “justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students…(that) legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race…and (that) endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior”(p.183).  And isn’t this pretty much everything we have been talking about.  That too many schools and communities “hurt”.  Either by discrimination or tracking.  

This is a quote from the above link, an article in the New York Times about the resurgence of tracking.  This approach is happening here in RI, and is not necessarily a bad thing. . . Think about Robbins' class as you read this, and follow the link (if you have time, if you even made it this far)

"About a decade ago, instead of teaching all her students as one group, (Ms. Sears, a fourth-grade teacher) began ability grouping, teaching all groups the same material but tailoring activities and assignment to each group."

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Viv! I liked how you put all of the articles that we have read that related to this article above! And then when I continued reading your post, you explained a few of them! I also loved how you used two personal stories. It was very interesting how you noticed that the gym trainer had Down Syndrome, yet you still were paying attention and noticed he was no different. It reminded me of Lee from Kleiwer's story! Great job !!