Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Other Sources of Inspiration

1. Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith
While the book’s primary focus is on the effects of research on those who are colonized, it had a great influence on my studies. I gained a greater understanding of how people are colonized. I also came to view the indigenous person as necessary for genuine research. Smith asks, “Why do they always think by looking at us they will find the answers to our problems, why don’t they look at themselves?” (198). She goes on to say that questions such as these also are relevant in education. Smith feels as if researchers cannot adequately address the problems a community faces if they are outsiders to that community.
Smith’s questions made sense to me. Those who make policy in education, are often far removed from the community in which those policies take place. When it comes to issues such as the achievement gap, researchers ought to look at why the system isn’t working for a particular group rather than why the group doesn’t conform to the standards the system has set in place. In other words, perhaps it isn’t that black boys in America who are the problem. Perhaps it is the system within which they are working that has defects.
2. Representations of the Intellectual by Edward W. Said
Said asks what it means to be an intellectual in an age of information. Rather than seeing intellectuals as specialized servants of special interest, he views them as thinkers with great responsibility. Said warns that the path of an intellectual is not an easy or mainstream one. He purports, “It is a spirit of opposition, rather than in accommodation, that grips me because the romance, the interest, the challenge of intellectual life is to be found in dissent against the status quo at a time when the struggle on behalf of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups seems so unfairly weighted against them.” (xvii). It is this spirit of opposition that my studies envelop. I question my country because I love it. Rather than just accept things as they are, I feel it is my responsibility to question how I can make things better.
3. To Teach: the journey in comics by William Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner
In the forward to this book, Johnathan Kozol speaks on the myths of education that Ayers addresses in this book. He states, “Not the least among those dragons is the notion that ‘technique’ alone- and especially the technical devices typically associated with a set of arbitrary state-mandated standards that induce subordination in the minds of students- are a good and proper substitute for the exhilaration that good teachers take in plunging ‘into the unknown’ beside them.” (xi) In other words, Ayers questions the status quo. To him, the state is taking away the opportunity for both students and educators to find excitement in discovery and learning. Ayers feels anyone who tries to define knowledge, which is infinite intersubjective and multidimensional, is killing learning. Ayers, like Schubert saw good teaching as an act of love, rather than a specific technique. He clearly defined my dilemma as an educator in Chicago Public Schools and a student at the University of Illinois Chicago when he explained, “To name oneself as a teacher is to live with one foot in the muck of the world as we find it- with its conventional patterns and received wisdom- and the other foot striding toward a world that could be, but isn’t yet.” (11). This study came to fruition because of the disconnect Ayers describes. At the time I started this project, I felt torn between the books I was reading and the life I was living. When I tried to discuss what researchers had shown was best practice with my administrators, I was told “these aren’t normal kids” and advised to teach lessons that wouldn’t require them to move or leave their desks. Needless to say, my questioning the system was not appreciated and I was not asked to return the following year.

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