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.

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