Monday, October 15, 2007

Learning Process blog- update

September 16, 2007

For my class on “Effective Instruction” we were assigned a reading on understanding white privilege. As I read through the article and the author listing her ideas of white privilege I found myself continually asking the same question…”is this really about race or is it about class or race AND class?” So I decided to test out my theory as I read. Next to each item she mentioned I wrote an “R” for race, a “C” for class or a “RC” for race and class. But after doing that for the rest of the first page I stopped myself and my theory had been refuted by the reading. It turned out that after that I point I was writing only an “R” for each item. It turns out she really was talking about privilege based on race and not class issues disguised as race issues. What I noticed here is that from prior experience I tend to be suspicious when anyone argues that there are a plethora of things that set us apart based on race because what I have so often found is that they are really talking about class and falsely equating black or Hispanic with poor. Because of this I have become (and I think in a positive way) concerned with dispelling simplistic logic when it comes to issues of race and class.

September 23, 2007

Today I did the reading from Takaki for class on Monday and I noticed a pattern as I went through and wrote my notes in the margin. The one thing that I seem to do (and I have noticed the same thing about how I think in life as well) is I very easily zoom out to capture the larger concept that the author is trying to get at. As I go through Takaki however this trend has accelerated greatly, in large part I think because I always have in the back of my mind “what can I teach from this chapter?” I think one of the most critically important parts of every lesson is providing students with the conceptual framework so they have the ability to transfer and use this knowledge to be better citizens in today’s world. Anyway, it was clear as I was taking notes that I was trying to fit each argument into a broader historical trend. Here are some of the many comments I wrote in the margins:

  • “he’s hiding behind state’s rights” (in reference to Andrew Jackson not protecting land treaties with the natives.
  • “ I could ask students, what do we owe to the Indians? Is there really any way to pay them back?” (in reference to a quote about Andrew Jackson being concerned about the welfare of the Indians).
  • “once again…a strategy to turn them against each other in order to secure white/ elite dominance.” (in reference to a quote about President Jackson trying to create divisions between the natives).
  • “compare to Israel/ Palestine…plenty of land available but not THAT land.” (in reference to “removal meant separation from a special and sacred place.”)
  • “the beginning of railroad tracks dividing the races.” (in reference to running rail lines through Indian territory led to a recomposition of race)

  • I think that my pattern of trying to fit arguments into broader conceptual schemes or historical trends is very helpful for me in learning because I clearly learn best when I have a reference. The only downside to this is that I obviously need to be aware of what may be false connections, or situations that seem analogous but the complexities make it clear that one must approach them each on their own merits and not simply by comparison. I think this will mostly be a helpful skill as a teacher however because I can use it to draw parallels that students might better understand and it gives me multiple avenues of trying to approach any given content. One additional approach to take this to the next level would be to try and teach history by conceptual units and common narratives as opposed to chronologically. This has been tried before by some teachers and I have read about both significant upsides and downsides.

September 29, 2007

Separate from my social studies learning that is being done for classes, I have decided to spend as much “free time” as I can trying to study up not just on my American history, but on alternative version of history. The goal is not only to bring myself back to the point where I have a basic understanding to communicate to my current and future students, but so that I can present them with as many perspectives as possible. As part of that effort I am reading Howard Zinn’s well-known “A People’s History of the United States.”

As I read through the first couple of chapters this week I noticed a trend about how I was approaching the process of dissecting his interpretations. As Prof. Lawrence’s professor once said, “history is all selectivity and narrative.” Based on that premise I take a very critical approach to any historical account. I ask myself “what are they leaving out?” and “what kind of history are they trying to show?” and so on. Because it is clear both from the introduction and from popular media accounts and reviews of this book that Howard Zinn definitely has an objective in mind when writing this history, despite agreeing with him most of the time, I have put myself in an even more critical than normal frame of mind. Questioning is always good, regardless of source; but what I have found is that I tend to more meticulously criticize those that largely agree with me. The point of reading about history is not to practice shaking my head up and down…so I try to question the motives, agenda, and reasoning process of those who agree with me ideologically even more strongly. But what is the process? How do I do this? First it is important to match up alternative histories to textbook histories and determine what is most valid about each interpretation. Can they be meshed together? Where do they contradict each other? What context do the evidence and anecdotes exist in? Anecdotes are great and I love to use them, but you must often take them with a grain of salt, because one story is not always representative of the time or setting it takes place in. As far as evidence, especially quotations used to back up the author’s argument, it is important to build context so I usually go digging (even if it’s just wikipedia) for some basic information about that time period and what was going on socially, culturally, etc… It’s easy to use quotes to build up any argument you want to make. If you want to make white people look like the bad guys (and most of the time they were), but you can selectively choose to paint a picture without defining the spectrum of what was considered progressive for the day.

Anyway…it was just a realization I came to as I was reading Zinn. Despite agreeing with his overall premise and historical assertions, I found myself questioning him more aggressively and through an effort to build context, learned much more about that history than if I just read Zinn.

October 9, 2007

I am doing this entry tonight because while attending my “Effective Instruction” class this evening I realized that I was doing what this journal is all about…catching myself in the process of learning. There is a student in our class named Jill who is deaf and a professor at Gallaudet University. She has actually taught me a lot over the course of this semester and opened up my eyes to some of the possibilities of working with special needs learners, but this time it wasn’t her teaching insights but rather just having her in the class to begin with. I have been doing this for weeks but I guess I just never thought about it until now. There are two interpreters in the class who come and sit in the middle of our horseshoe to interpret the class discussion for Jill. They rotate back and forth. I have been struggling, usually having them right next to me, not to watch them to much and rather focus on whoever is talking, or Jill herself if she is talking. I read the novel “Train Go Sorry” last semester for my special education class and it taught me a lot about working with the deaf, but one lesson was that you should look at them when they are speaking and not at their interpreters. It is definitely an issue of respect and dignity. So I have been trying hard to do that but also battling another urge…to learn sign language! So tonight I really just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to be respectful and watch Jill while she was speaking but while other members of the class were speaking I kept checking back in with the interpreters to see how they signed something. Any time an interesting word or phrase came up, I glanced back to check it out. What this taught me is that one of the ways that we learn is from the needs of peers. It reminds me of the kid who raises his hand and says “I have a stupid question, but…” and inevitably it isn’t a stupid question, they were just the only one with the nerve to raise their hand and ask it. In truth, half of the class probably was wondering the same thing, but didn’t learn it until someone else bothered to ask the question. One of the positives about having students with learning disorders or special needs in a “mainstream” classroom is that ALL students benefit from it. The tools and resources that are used in special education really could be used more often in other classrooms to the great advantage of all of the students. So many unique and helpful technologies have been developed for that purpose, but not much thought given (as far as I know) as to how they could be used in inclusion classes. On top of that there ought to be serious thought given to peer tutoring between learning disabled students and other students. Also classes specifically geared towards this kind of interaction should be constructed. Not only is it good for all students, but could really be empowering for the special needs students to show that they also have something to teach their peers.

October 12, 2007

Today I noticed that my learning process and teaching process have begun to merge in many ways. I was at Kramer books tonight and just browsing around when I came across a new book by political and constitutional expert Larry Sabato called “A More Perfect Constitution.” The book outlines 23 proposals for amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As I began to read through the intro’s to some of the chapters I realized I was seeing both ideas that I had heard before and ideas that I had not and that seemed very creative and intriguing to learn about. The first thought that came to my head though, was not “I can’t wait to read this book!.” Instead it was “I can’t wait to TEACH this book!” Immediately I began thinking of ideas for how I could use this interesting book in the classroom. I could have them debate his proposals, come up with new amendments themselves, and on and on. Anyway this is a quick blog entry but I thought it was worth noting that at the same time I was in the process of learning these new ideas, I couldn’t separate the teaching process.

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