Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Computers, Computers, Computers!

I was scanning the newspaper this afternoon when I stumbled upon the funnies. I began to read them, and noticed that four of the comic strips (Dilbert, Beetle Bailey, Adam@Home, and Grand Avenue) had jokes centered around the use of a computer. I began to think about the texts I have read, most recently Preparing Teachers for "Monday Morning" in the Urban School Classroom", which describe the lack of resources in some urban schools. The fact that many inner city schools and students do not have enough computers, or internet access, while four of the comic strips in one day base their jokes on computers shows that any students without computer knowledge and computer skills will be at a grave disadvantage in their future.
The frequency with which computers serve as subjects in something as trivial as comic strips is a demonstration of how common computers have become. My household has more working computers than it does residents. We take owning computers for granted. We take our access to irtually unlimited information (the internet) for granted. Most people would be appauled if they suddenly lost their ability to find answers in seconds using search engines. Much of the nation's youth wouldn't know what to do with themselves if the social networking websites they use were suddenly shut down. Academia wold have trouble acclimating to a world without internet research databases that allow them to search for scholarly articles. The internet is jsut part of the power of a computer. Computers can be used for presentations, graphs, word processing, design, and peforming calculations and measurements that humans simply could not perform with any degree of efficiency.
At this point, I have a hard time imagining the world without computers/ internet. However, there are plently of people who have never used a computer, and some of those people are inner city students. Most desirable occupations require at least basic computer knowledge/skills, and all of those who are deprived of computer knowledge are in a technological prison, restricted from the oppurtunities that those who are embedded (at least moderately) in the modern world; the world of computers.

Memorial Day and Urban Education

Memorial Day is a day reserved for those of fortunate to be among the living to remember all the fallen heroes. In addition to serving as a day off from work and school, and a grace day useful to nurse a hangover, Memorial Day allows us to reflect and honor all of those who died in war, specifically but not limited to the Civil War. When I ask myself how Memorial Day and urban education are related, I cannot help but transform the association to relate urban centers and war with one another. Urban centers are often very significantly affected by war, as they often disproportionately serve as sources for soldiers. Many inner cities have pockets of poverty, leading the inner city populations with fewer opportunities than other populations.
When people are removed from a community and enlist or are drafted into military service, their community is losing resources: families are without mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Communities are losing workers, patrons, coaches, and taxpayers. The strength of the community, the networks, social ties, and communal institutions are negatively affected. The schools are affected as well. When resources leave a community, the community loses wealth, and human capital. The community loses parents to help with homework, and motivate their children. The community loses members that might have attended college, and returned to the community to acquire high-paying jobs. There are many ways in which one person can positively contribute to his or her community, and strong, healthy communities tend to have stronger, better education systems. It is a cyclic phenomenon, meaning better education systems ultimately build stronger local communities. Historically, war has siphoned resources from urban areas, weakening urban communities, and both directly and indirectly affecting urban education.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Ill-Informed, Media-derived Assumptions about Urban Schools

I will preclude this entry by stating that I have never had any experience with an inner city education. I have grown up in a typical upper-middle class suburb, and most all of my notions of urban school environments are the result of what I have seen on the television, read in articles, and been taught by my teachers. I may compare urban centers to suburbia simply because it provides a frame of reference that with which I am most familiar. With this said, I would like to formally state that nothing I write in this post is meant to offend anyone, and I hope that no one receives the wrong impression of my beliefs and values from this entry.
A belief of mine about urban centers is that they are generally less wealthy that suburban regions, but there are always exceptions. I believe urban centers are more culturally, nationally, ethnically, religiously, and racially diverse. Because of the low socioeconomic position, and because of the different cultural characteristics of the urban population (listed in the preceding sentence) in many urban centers, I believe that the crime rate is higher in inner cities than in the suburbs. I have seen stories of shootings and gang-related violence in cities on the news almost nightly. Popular rap lyrics also often paint a picture of violence and poverty from the city in which the rap artist came. Although drug-use is often portrayed in movies and shows about urban life, I do not necessarily believe that drug use is more prevalent in inner cities. I have seen rampant drug and alcohol abuse in my community; perhaps the wealth of the community contributes to the community’s drug use. From my experience, my suburban community is representative of the drug and alcohol use of other suburban communities like mine. I also believe that there are more single parents in urban communities, as this has been portrayed frequently in movies and television programming. These assumptions, or preconceived notions of urban centers shape my view of inner-city schools, teachers, and students as well.
I imagine inner city schools to be less-adequately funded that suburban schools, and therefore the schools provide less resources for the students. I believe that urban schools are often required to take more precautions in attempt to prevent violence in the schools. Movies have portrayed urban schools with metal detectors at the entrances, and have showed gang/race-related acts of violence within the school. I believe that many inner-city schools struggle academically, as the movies and shows I have seen portray the students as inadequately educated. I have learned in class that urban school districts are frequently Type I districts, meaning that the school board is appointed by the mayor, and the people of the community do not vote for the school budget. This gives the members of the community less influence in their community’s school decisions.
I believe that inner city students are less adequately prepared for college or the work force than suburban students, as I have seen movies that depict inner-city students as incapable of achieving the minimum basic skills at a secondary level. Movies have also led me to believe that inner-city students have less pride and interest in their school and education. Movies have shown the hallways, bathrooms, and even classrooms of the schools to be covered in, sometimes explicit, graffiti. I have recently learned about Haberman’s notion of Pedagogy of Poverty, which describes the situation that many impoverished schools face. The Pedagogy of Poverty fosters passive compliance of the students, and what is superficially perceived as a high degree of order and control from the teacher. The school’s administrators encourage the Pedagogy of Poverty, which is seemingly the most convenient pedagogical method for the school to exude order.
I learned in class that some teachers play a large role in perpetuating the Pedagogy of Poverty in urban schools, assuming the role of authoritarian in the classroom. Movies have portrayed urban teachers in two opposing ways; the relentless, unorthodox hero, and the apathetic, ineffective burnout who serves only to maintain order in the classroom. I also believe that teachers have higher salaries in affluent suburban districts than in urban area.
These beliefs could affect my interaction with the teachers and students with whom I will work, in both positive and negative ways. Firstly, these largely uninformed views may deter me from looking for a teaching position in an urban area. I fear that my lack of experience with urban communities and their culture would render me less effective in teaching in an urban area. However, I do believe in the individual’s ability to make a significant difference in anybody’s life. I have the potential to learn as much as the students do in an urban setting. I would learn about diverse cultures, attitudes, belief constructs, and then I would learn to adapt to the complexity of teaching to the culturally diverse students together. I might have students who have English as their second language. In very impoverished districts, I might have the challenge of captivating students who have larger concerns than academic excellence. These obstacles would most likely make me a stronger, more adaptable, more experienced (better) teacher.
The challenges of teaching in some inner cities might draw teachers together as a stronger support system, which might create stronger teacher-teacher bonds. This could open avenues for interdisciplinary endeavors, and things of this nature.
The classroom I would like to create fosters critical thinking, varies instruction method, creates meaning, is sensitive to diversity, creates a teacher-student dialogue, and embraces spontaneity and students interests. Teaching in a diverse classroom would allow many worldviews to be expressed, and would allow the students and myself to learn about a subject from many viewpoints. A diverse class would also mean diverse student-interests. My classroom will accommodate and diverse interests by allowing students to select topics to for projects and presentations. As a biology teacher, it is particularly important for me to be sensitive to the diverse religious beliefs of my students. The major theme in biology is evolution, and it may conflict with many of the students’ religious beliefs, particularly the students’ creation story beliefs.
The professional I hope to become will understand multiple viewpoints, be sensitive to all cultural backgrounds, and show empathy for individual’s life situation. My professional attitude will be hopeful, levelheaded, and positive. The assumptions I hold might deprive an urban school of all I expect to offer as an educator because my ill-informed assumptions may lead me to apply to a suburban school. I am familiar with suburban schools, they seem to pay teachers higher salaries, and there may be fewer challenges in teaching in a suburb.
The resounding questions that this paper provokes are, “How closely do my assumptions match reality?” I’d also like to know if I would be an effective urban educator, and if I would enjoy teaching in an urban area? I hope that this course and my first-hand experience in Newark will provide answers to these questions.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bio-English: Annotated Bibliography

Jones, Marge. "Bio-English." Active Learner: a Foxfire Journal for Teachers 1 (1996). 22 May 2008.

Bio-English describes a successful experimental elective offered at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. The elective course marries topics in biological science with writing, aiming to improve the students’ science vocabulary and grammar skills. The elective allowed students to form small groups, select their own topics, and set their own project goals, which ultimately increased the students’ interest in their work. The students also developed technological and research skills as they engaged in self-directed research from library resources and the Internet. The students selected and researched an array of topics including the effects of steroids on athletes, the linkage between gymnasts and eating disorders, exobiology, the effects of volcanoes on the ecosystem, and the physiology and psychology of domestic cats and dogs. During an evaluation of the elective at the end of the term, students responded very positively: some students requested to participate in the course again in the following term, while another student admitted that the course was his motivation for attending schools some days.
Marge Jones claims that the Principal of Theodore Roosevelt, Thelma Baxter, is an instrumental part of the school’s success, as she is well connected in the community, contending that Baxter has created a learning environment “where reform works”. She embraces elements of progressivism and incorporates the resources that the community can provide in order to maximize the opportunities for Theodore Roosevelt’s students.
Theodore Roosevelt is challenged with all the typical misfortunes of an inner-city education: poverty, crime, disease, and more. The extent of the elective’s success can credited to the DORR Foundation, which donated $12,000, which provided the students with the internet-equipped computers needed for the research-based projects.
The article’s author, Marge Jones, is an English teacher and Project Achieve coordinator at Theodore Roosevelt High School. She taught the Bio-English elective course at the school, and has been able to provide a primary account of the successes of the course.
The course is an example of pedagogical excellence. Bio-English is student-centered, interdisciplinary, project-based, and technologically relevant. The course allows students to be self-directed, and also provides the students with the opportunity to work in small peer-groups.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teacher in the 'Hood: Hollywood's Middle-Class Fantasy

Robert C. Bulman argues that hollywood often inaccurately portrays the attitudes and outlooks of members of an innner city community through the urban-high-school genre of films. The genre typically credits a single, middle-class, outsider with the success of inner city students. The outsider, most often a teacher or principal, uses unorthodox methods to help the deprived students overcome thier socioeconomic status, and unfavorable environment in order to succeed, according to middle class values. The middle class, characterized as people who earn their income rom salaries and wages, and own their own homes, place a high calue on individualism. They value education and high-occupational status, and rationality, according to Bulman. The text argues that the middle-class values in the movies are a reflection of our society's values. Because the middle class is the dominant culture in the U.S., the movies that embrace middle-class values will do well in the box office. The effect is cyclic in ways, as the middle class feel content with the notion that members of urban communities can be saved by single teachers. The portrayal of inner-city students in movies perpetuates the culture of poverty, which asserts that the lack of motivation of the students is responsible for their inabililty to achieve middle-class values. Bulmer argues that the problems common to urban schooling requires political and social cooperation and reform, and that Hollywood unrealistically satisfies the middle-classes' indivisualist values by portraying the unorthodox teacher as the sole-hero.
While I agree with Bulman's description of middle class values, and also his claim that Hollywood may portray unrealistic solutions to the problems in inner-city schools, I disagree with a few things concerning the article. Firstly, Bulman virtually ignores the importantce of the family structure in education (and a students general well-being). In Lean on Me, Mr. Clark and his secretary (I believe) visit one of the student's living quarters because her mother was reluctantly planning on putting her 14-year old daughter into foster care. The mother of the student explained that she was a single mother, that she had given birth to her daughter at a very young age, and that she had been struggling with drug addiction. Mr. Clark convinced the mother that she must keep her daughter at any cost or that her daughter would not have a good chance of graduating or even surviving. My point here is that the scene demonstrates the importance of family structure in the child's well-being. I have not seen all the other movies, but I would wager that many of them show students from broken homes.
Call me a person of middle class values if you will, but I believe in the value of an individual's work. And although one person might not be able to transform every underprivledged student in an urban area into an excellent student, I'd like to believe that one teacher can make a difference, against all odds. I'd like to ask those who have worked in an impoverished district if they felt that they have made a significant difference in the lives of the underpriviledged students of theirs?

The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching

In The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching, Martin Haberman describes the inadequate, ineffective pedagogy thast has become alarmingly commonplace in urban schools. Without meticulously characterizing Haberman's "pedagogy of poverty", the system consist of teachers performing the most basic of functions, where the classroom environment rewards the passive compliance of the students, and establishes a disparate power structure between the teacher and student. The teacher assumes the role of authoritatian, and students take the role as passive observers.
I would like to spend most of this entry discussing Haberman's criteria for good teaching. Most of what he describes as good teaching practices are classic examples of critical/creative/caring/Philosophical thinking. Good teaching is occuring when students are examining human differences. This exemplifies the CT skills of making distinctions, and can dvelop a students ability to understnd different perspectives. Good teaching is about examining major concepts, big ideas, and general principals. These inquiries involve making generalizations, and constructing meaning through philosophical thought. Understanding big ideas allow students to grasp concepts, which leads students to become vested in the material. It is undeniable that students are more likely to connect with material if they understand it's important implications. Good teaching involves students "planning what they will be doing", according to Haberman, which involves student-centered learning. Again, no rational person would disagree that activities which incorporate the interests of the students are more effective than the opposing condition. Good teaching is occuring when students apply ideals like fairness, equity, and justice. Philosophically speaking, these are typical examples of common, central, contestable themes. Practically speaking, these ideals can be applied to many facets of life such as the student's life as democratic citizens, global human rights, ideal practices for living in a community, and often even religious ideals. Haberman claims that good teaching incorporates active learning and the active involvement of the students. This coincides with the project method, which disserts that effective learning involves students' active, hands-on participation. Real-life and hands-on experiences have no eqivalent substitute. Haberman also claims that good teaching is going on when students question assumptions. Questioning assumptions is a valuable dimension of critical thinking. He says that good teaching is occuring when students are redoing, polishing, and perfecting their work. These actions are examples of self-correction, which is another valuable critical thinking skill. Finally, reflective thinking is part of good teaching. Students who engage in this skill are more likely to improve their abilities, as they can act as sensors of their own actions, and can therefore benefit from changing themselves for the better.

The Promise of Urban Schools

The Promise of Urban Schools outlines five key components that are required for excellence in urban schooling. The five elements are provided in the acronym, AEIOU. The first componenet is "Agency". Agency is the "power to understand, act on, and effect positive change in one's personal and social context." "Equity and Justice" is the second component. Equity is different form equality, as some contexts may present an "equal but not fair" situation. Equity, in their description, would deliver equal outcomes for each student. Justice is closely related to equity, as justice ensures that resources and support mechanisms are provided fairly to the students based upon the students' needs. "Instruction and Curriculum" is the third ingredient for successful urban schooling. The authors assert that students must have "access to quality instruction", which requires highly qualified instructors. Students must be challenged by the material, but also allowed to learn through discovery and creativity. Students in urban schools must be afforded access to all the resources and materials that are provided to students in the most well equipped schools in the nation. "Outcomes and Impacts" describe the need to assess the multi-faceted intelligences of students. This certainly seems to be applicable to all students in all schools. Standardized tests quantify narrow avenues of a student's capacity, while lacking any representation of student's creative abilities, knowledge of the natural sciences, and creative writing skills. The last component is called "Urban Conditions & Context". This section desribes the general attitude of the public in relation to urban schools. According to the text, the public has little confidence in urban schools, and "many urbans schools are in disrepair and suffer from low morale and low expectations.

The two sections I most closely connected with are Agency and Equity/Justice. "Agency embodies a sense of hope and possibility...". This is absolutely paramount in education. All the oppurtunities and resources in the world would be useless to students who do not value the utility of education. It is the sense of hope and possibility that keep students motivated through struggle and overwhelming work loads. This notion applies to students in all economic classes and situations. I will illustrate my point using a personal example. I went to a high school that serviced students from my town and the next town over. The town adjacent to mine is one of the wealthiest in the country, and some of the students were on a path to take over their parents businesses, meaning that they would inherit multimillion-dollar paying jobs. Many of these students had no vested interest in their education. They had no sense of possiblity, and failed to see the importance and power of education. So you see, it is hope and possibility that help to drive the learning process.
Equity and Justice was the other facet of urban education that really moved me. The article states, "...Equity and justice can produce better-qualified, committed citizens who strengthen our democracy. School equity goes hand and hand with social and economic justice..." The quote exemplifies the notion of the school being an agent of social reconstruction. If we can instill in students the values of social justice and equity through education and practice, we can transform society into a more fair national community.

New Born

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