Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rethinking Dialogue: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Populations

I was perusing through the blogs and forums on The Paulo and Nita Freire Project and came across an interesting discussion forum: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Students:
I have been thinking about Critical Pedagogy in relation to various oppressed groups. If Critical Pedagogy advocates dialogue in its practice, how can we apply critical pedagogy with students with special needs?
Vanessa Paradis offers this response:
What is dialogue? Is it limited to words that we speak or write down on paper? Dialogue can occur in many formats (art, movement, touch, music, presence, assistive technology, etc..) as can be noted from all of the different blogs on the site. What all dialogue must have in common is love (Freire's radical love) compassion, and humility with an overriding motivation for social justice. McLaren and Jaramillo (2007) state, "The longing for dignity and justice for others, as well as for ourselves, has been a primary motivation for critical educators worldwide to engage in the politics and practice of critical pedagogy" (p. 196).
Our concept of dialogue expands with critical pedagogy. What are all of the ways we might engage in dialogue with people? I ask this because I do not have the answers myself and it is an issue that I seek more knowledge for, especially given that I have a daughter with autism and I have seen her struggle with trying to communicate something she so desperately wants to say, but it stays locked up in her brain anyway, until she cries out in frustration.
We also need to expand how labels and diagnostics define people's capabilities; the ideal would be no labels at all. Setting limits based on a Cartiesian ontology is a tragic error and serves to keep people locked into confined spaces from which they might otherwise escape (Kincheloe, 2006). A perfect example is the IQ test and allowing it to tell us what a person cannot do. Kincheloe (2006) states, "Since the self is always in context and in process, no final delineation of a notion such as ability can be determined. Thus, we are released from the rugged cross of I.Q. and such hurtful and primitive colonial conceptions of 'intelligence'" (Contructing a Critical Ontology, para. 2). This requires us to step outside the boxes we have constructed and to look through different frameworks or lenses.
When we define the prerequisites for dialogue as the ability to speak and write in the ways of the dominant culture, who are we seeking to shut out from dialogue? Who is afraid to enter the dialogue? 

Another pitfall occurs when we make assumptions that certain populations are "unfit" for particular dialogues. In his Introduction to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Donald Macedo writes about an occasion when he and Henry Giroux were asked to speak at Massasoit Community College (MA) to a group of unwed mothers in a GED program. The program mentioned that many of the women were considered "functionally illiterate." Macedo mentions one woman's response after the speech:
Professor Giroux, all my life I felt the things you talked about. I just didn't have a language to express what I have felt. Today, I have come to realize that I do have a language. Thank you.
The particular language in which dialogue takes place is not necessarily what is important. What is fundamental is that individuals, in relationship to others, find languages in which to communicate, dialogue, and create and recreate the world. The dialogue that, as Freire would say, "unveils reality," is a relationship. Must we limit this "unveiling of reality" to certain vocabularies, languages, degree-holding groups, or those deemed to have higher abilities or higher IQ's? Those that are experts? 

Who do we limit with our constructions of dialogue? How do we limit the power of art, music, drama, dance, laughter as languages and dialogue?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Elite Colleges: Making Minds or Careers?

What are the disadvantages of an elite, top-notch, Ivy university? William Deresiewicz frames them pretty darn well in "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" from the current issue of The American Scholar.

Read the whole piece. Here are several tidbits that Dresiewicz pinpoints as serious disadvantages of the so-called "elite" educational institutions:
The first disadvantage of an elite education... is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it.
Elite colleges and universities pride themselves in opening up doors to their students. But what doors are they closing?
If one of the disadvantages of an elite education is the temptation it offers to mediocrity, another is the temptation it offers to security. An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed. We live in a society that is itself so wealthy that it can afford to provide a decent living to whole classes of people who in other countries exist (or in earlier times existed) on the brink of poverty or, at least, of indignity. You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW or a Hummer; you have to vacation in Florida instead of Barbados or Paris, but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?

Yet it is precisely that opportunity that an elite education takes away. How can I be a schoolteacher—wouldn’t that be a waste of my expensive education? Wouldn’t I be squandering the opportunities my parents worked so hard to provide? What will my friends think? How will I face my classmates at our 20th reunion, when they’re all rich lawyers or important people in New York? And the question that lies behind all these: Isn’t it beneath me? So a whole universe of possibility closes, and you miss your true calling.
I realize that I am just about to quote the whole article, so read it for yourself.

The bottom line?
The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brooklyn Students Say They Aren't Interested in Fighting Other People's Battles

"In the military, I would fight for someone else's perception of what is right and wrong, and I don't want that," said Jarel March, of East New York, a student at Williamsburg Preparatory High School.

Book to Read: Against Schooling: For an Education That Matters by Stanley Aronowitz

"In Against Schooling, Stanley Aronowitz passionately raises an alarm about the current state of education in our country. Discipline and control over students, Aronowitz argues, are now the primary criteria of success, and genuine learning is sacrificed to a new educational militarism. In an age where school districts have imposed testing, teachers must teach to test, and both teacher and student are robbed of their autonomy and creativity. The crisis extends to higher education, where all but a few elite institutions are becoming increasingly narrowly focused and vocational in their teaching. With education lacking opportunity for self-reflection on broad social and historical dynamics, Against Schooling asks “How will society be able to solve its most pressing problems?” Aronowitz proposes innovative approaches to get schools back on track."

The book is expensive, but here's a link to an Aronowitz article: "Against Schooling: Education and Social Class."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

SAT Spin

A recent study shows that the revamped SAT isn't any better at predicting college success than the old test was. The College Board began to revise the test in 2002, adding a writing section and taking away the analogies portion, when the University of California recommended that the school use a more curriculum- based approach to testing, saying that the SAT favored students from middle to high income families. (Think of the money lost if students applying to University of California schools weren't required to take the SAT!) The new test format was released three years ago. 
“The changes made to the SAT did not substantially change how predictive the test is of first-year college performance,” the studies said.

College Board officials presented their findings as “important and positive” confirmation of the test’s success.
Huh? Sounds similar to Bush's spin on the Reading First results.
“The new SAT was supposed to be significantly better and fairer than the old one, but it is neither,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, a group that is critical of much standardized testing. “It underpredicts college success for females and those whose best language is not English, and over all, it does not predict college success as well as high school grades, so why do we need the SAT, old or new?”

“Given the data released today, what was the point of all the hoopla about the SAT’s revisions beyond preserving their California market?” Mr. Schaeffer said. “This is all spin. It’s been a marketing operation from the get-go.”
Why do we need the SAT???

Book to Read: Eugenics and Education in America by Ann Winfeild

Bill Ayers has an interesting post about Ann Winfeild's Eugenics and Education in America: Institutionalized Racism and the Implications of History, Ideology, and Memory (Complicated Conversation: a Book Series of Curriculum Studies).


Ayers' review:
Written out of the official story as quackery and the handiwork of a few nut-cases, Winfield demonstrates beyond doubt that eugenics was not only respectable, mainstream science but also that its major tenets were well-springs in the formation of American public schools with echoes in the every day practices of today. Formed in the crucible of white supremacy and rigid hierarchies of human value, American schools have never adequately faced that living heritage.

We no longer talk of “miscegenation” or “imbeciles,” of course, and we are likely to look upon forced sterilization and race-based marriage laws as archaic. But Winfield undermines any sense of smug superiority we might grant ourselves by drawing a direct line from those repulsive labels and practices to our own obsessions with “standards” and “accountability,” test scores and grades. White supremacy surely changes its spots but it remains durable and dominant.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I Love Bridging Differences

A great blog to read: Bridging Differences. It's a conversation between Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier both at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education who have "found themselves at odds on policy over the years."

Deborah comments on "Blaming Teachers" and Bloomberg's recent speeches on NYC's test score "victory:"
Bloomberg is one of many that view anything that isn't built around a harsh competitive spirit, with easy to count winners and losers, and money at stake can't work. Maybe even shouldn't work. Further, if you believe that nothing worthwhile happened prior to the arrival of one's own new bold plans little attention need be paid to those "on the ground." Crisis thinking has that inevitable downside—one has no for serious thought, for persuading or being persuaded by the reluctant in face of imminent danger. * All independent power blocs that stand in the way (like parents and teachers) must be immobilized so that swift and inflexible action can be taken from the top. (Bloomberg should reread War and Peace.) For noble ends, short cuts in truth-telling are allowed. We remember (and disremember) best what proves our point. (Mea culpa too.)