Saturday, September 27, 2014

Of Mice and Marginalization

Michelle Kinney in her article "Of Mice and Marginalization" talks about her decision to teach Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men to her 10th grade ELA class.  Similarly, I am in the midst of teaching the novel to my 9th grade students, so I was excited to get her perspectives on the book and her unit.  As I continued to read Kinney's article, I began to become aware of some of our other similarities.  She also teaches in a middle/upper middle class high school where many parents are educated and invested in their children's educations.  Kinney explains, "Like many of the parents at Madison's Back to School Night, Meredith's mother was white, middle class, and well educated. Back at Marshall, where many parents were bogged down by making ends meet and other obligations, we were lucky to see a handful of parents show up at Back to School Night. At Madison the room was packed. I wasn't used to this kind of crowd."  She then goes on to discuss the fact that she was "persuaded" by  parents to stop teaching A Long Way Gone, a memoir of a boy's experience as a child slave during the civil war in Sierra Leone, because it was "too violent."  This type of parental pressure is all too common in schools.  Many times we as teachers feel pressured by parents to change grades/curriculum/practices and many times the administration backs these parents.  While most parents have good intentions and their children's best interests at heart; occasionally, there are parents who don't value teachers nor trust them to do the job they've been trained to do. 

While teaching Of Mice and Men, Kinney found that many of the Latino and black students in her class had "checked out" due to stereotypical roles portrayed in the novel.  After reflecting on her experience in caving under parental pressure and teaching a novel she wasn't necessarily 100% comfortable with, Kinney asks, "Do I teach books that a narrow but vocal segment of the community promotes, or do I return to teaching equally challenging novels, plays, poems, and nonfiction works that speak to all students in terms of the themes and characters they introduce? I began the year prepared to have conversations about the suitability of the literature some parents expect to see on my syllabus. I decided to trust myself, my education, and my own experiences when making critical decisions about what will work for everyone in our increasingly diverse school, not just those whose parents are able to show up for Back to School Night."  Essentially, Kinney decides to stand up to parents and trust her own experience and expertise.  I think it is vitally important that we do this as educators.  As long as we are coming from a place of sincerity and preparedness, we should never simply teach or do what parents "suggest" we do.  WE are the educators.  WE are the experts in our fields.  I would never think of telling a doctor how to perform surgery or what test to give to a patient, nor would I expect anyone to tell me how to differentiate instruction or manage a class.  I think sometimes people have the mentality that...Oh, she's just a teacher...I could do that job. I resoundingly answer...NO! You could not do my job without the necessary skill, training and (hopefully) passion that I have!  We educators need to stand up for ourselves and our fellow colleagues and not let certain (and it's not a ton of people but definitely a few) individuals dictate what we teach or don't teach in the classroom.

**Interesting link to an article about the sometimes difficult "dicey" relationship between teachers and parents.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Colorblindness vs. Color Insight

In their piece “Colorblindness is the New Racism,” Armstrong and Wildman make a case that the term “colorblind” in regards to a cultural “touchstone in race discourse” (64) is in fact hindering the idea it sets forth.  In other words, the authors are suggesting that the colorblind mentality (not paying any attention to color or racial differences) is not working and actually… ironically…has worked against its fundamental components.  OK…I get the idea…I get the term…however, I don’t think in reality anyone could ever really believe that “it”….colorblindness…could ever exist in the real world. We all well aware of race and color and in denying that fact we are simply pretending.  What the authors are suggesting is that we create a new term and thus a new mentality in “color insight” (65). Color insight involves four steps with the ultimate goal of understanding both race as an underlying context and the systems of power and privilege.  However, it also asks us to come to a deeper understanding about individuals (the “me”) as people with distinct histories and perspectives and not simply a color or a label. 
Armstrong and Wildman argue that whites in general do not really think too much about their own race.  The authors see this unawareness as privilege playing out in many scenarios.  “Whites tend not to notice that they too have a race and their own race carries social meaning and generally positive presumptions” (66).  I tend to agree with this idea; I think that most whites take for granted that their race allows them a certain power and privilege in most aspects of life.  I thought it was particularly interesting to read excerpts from students who were asked to notice race in their worlds for a 24 hour period.  It was only in this acute awareness and self reflection that they became more aware of how their “whiteness” gave them certain advantages and how others’ “non-whiteness” worked against them.  I think, as the authors suggest, that it is extremely important to be aware of privilege in our own lives but also not limit our perspective to race…or color…or gender… or class.  We need to be able to delve a bit deeper and see individuals as first and foremost people; color insight allows for that.
In addition to the Armstrong/Wildman piece, I also read “stealing a bag of chips and other crimes of resistance” by Victor Rios.  Rios did a study in which he follows a group of underprivileged boys and tries to get to the root of their “bad” behavior.  Rios suggests that many of these boys find that the only way they earn power and respect is by committing crimes.  He feels as though many of these boys have felt left out of a system which fosters and rewards “good behavior.”  “Feelings of exclusion from a network of positive credentials, education, and employment opportunities led to resistance identities”(50).  He further suggests that, paradoxically, these boys commit crimes in response to their criminalization.  “Many of the young men self-consciously ‘acted stupid’ as a strategy to discredit the significance of a system which had excluded and punished them”(53).  They are, sadly, using the only method they know how to use to fight against a system that has excluded them.  I think this idea is true and, in addition, I don’t think it’s changing.  There is a certain culture that values crime as a way to earn power and respect.  Unfortunately, events such as what happened in Ferguson, Missouri only add fuel to the fire by continuing to foster a sense of exclusion for blacks and power, control and authority for whites.
In this youtube clip, a man speaks to the culture of crime in regards to the Ferguson riots.  He has also received a great deal of backlash from the black community in response to his for thought...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Silenced Dialogue

“We must keep the perspective that people are experts on their own lives.”           

In “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,” Lisa Delpit explores the idea that people of color operate under different cultural norms and expectations than those of whites.  She argues that because of these differences along with students’ unawareness of the embedded “culture of power,” (24) students of color are less likely than whites to succeed in the classroom.  Further, she argues that students of color are not able to pick up on communicative clues when commands and directions are stated indirectly by white teachers.  According to Delpit, students of color need clear and direct instructions in the classroom.  “If such explicitness is not provided to students, what it feels like to people who are old enough to judge is that there are secrets being kept, that time is being wasted, and that the teacher is abdicating his or her duty to teach”(31).  Delpit suggests that differences in cultural norms run so deep and are so embedded in both black and white culture that many students of color are not able to come to the playing field even ready to play.  Furthermore, in some ways, these students are not even sure what game they are playing or what the rules of the game are.  I find Delpit’s suggestions intriguing and the implications of what she argues are mind boggling.

After reading Delpit’s article and thinking about her perspective on educating students of color, I was drawn to the notion that for students to succeed in school, they need definite support and structure at home.  Delpit argues that students are already at a disadvantage when they do not come to school with the necessary “culture of power” norms and routines.  “This meant that the child who did not come to school already primed with what was presented would be labeled as needing “remedial” instruction from day one; indeed, this determination would be made before he or she was ever taught”(30).  Students of color are well behind the proverbial eight ball before they even start school.  This idea instantly reminded me of an excerpt from a Colin Powell speech in which he talks about the need for structure both at home and in the classroom. 

**As a side note, I use the Powell speech and an excerpt from Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life to discuss different teaching methods and ways for students to learn---which Delpit feels needs to be discussed and developed in every classroom for every student to succeed. 

Powell, like Delpit, feels as though students of color are placed at a disadvantage right off the bat, not because of intellectual capability, but because they haven’t been given the tools of structure they need to succeed at home.  After contemplating this idea, I agree wholeheartedly.  I think about my own children and the emphasis I placed on reading to them at home and how well this one habit has served them in school.  Imagine if my home was one in which my children were not read to frequently and at an early age?  I’m sure if that was the case, they would not have succeeded as well as they have in school.  I never even thought about this before…and that’s probably because I am part of the “culture of power” Deplit keeps coming back to.  However, I know that I am…and I know that some aren’t…and knowing is half the battle.  The other half is figuring out a way to work with that knowledge in my classroom and my life.    


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Privilege, Power, and Difference...

Interestingly enough, a majority of the ideas Allan Johnson mentions in his article "Privilege, Power, and Difference" have been swirling around in my mind for most of my adult life.  As a woman especially, it is easy to see how male privilege plays a role in my everyday existence. Whether males are being quickly being promoted or I am constantly scrutinized on my appearance, I know what it feels like to feel "Oppressed."  Obviously, I fall under the upper middle class/white category as well so I know how it feels to be "privileged."  I think the most important fact that Johnson mentions is that we can only imagine what it feels like to be oppressed.  We can sympathize (and maybe empathize...); however, we can never truly experience what others have experienced as an oppressed group. (Not to mention fathom all the history behind their oppression.)  The mentality that some of us hold that "Everything is ok...or Racism doesn't exist" is something that everyone in our American society needs to challenge.  Everything is not ok; in fact, racism...and sexism...and homophobia...and a slew of other injustices still occur everyday, everywhere.  It is not just being aware of their existence however; it is making a personal call to action to change whatever we can in our own...sometimes small but significant lives.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


My name is Melissa Colando.  I am currently an English teacher at Cranston High School West where I have been teaching for the past seven years.  In addition, I have previously taught English at the New England Laborers Construction Career Academy which is a charter school also located in Cranston.  I decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Secondary Education because I feel as though education is my passion and I am hoping to extend and deepen my knowledge and experience in the field.  I will have been married to my husband Jon for fifteen years this coming December.  I have a daughter, Gwendolyn, who started college at Emmanuel this fall and a son, Zachary, who is a Sophomore ar Cranston West.  I enjoy reading, cooking, running, and yoga.  I am looking forward to a great semester...and improving my technology skills in the process!