Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I sometimes think these articles are trying to talk us out of becoming teachers

What was with the Goebel article? That was certainly not a pleasant thing to sit through. Instead of naming it "'Who Are All These People?'" it should have been "The Reasons Why You Will Be A Terrible Teacher." This article came from the University of Utah, and we all know my recent experiences with things from Utah.

I mean, come on, the first section talks about all the ways that a student, even if they're from similar races and ethnicities, is so entirely different from everyone else in a classroom and we as teachers need to accomodate for that. I feel like some of these articles seriously over analyze the situation. At the end of the day, the students are all moody, confused and struggling. They may be feeling this way for different reasons, yes, but nevertheless, they are experiencing similar feelings and attitudes.

I sometimes worry that in the process of attempting to create and build a curriculum around each individual student, we are losing sight of giving students an ability to adapt, change perspectives and understand each other. When we focus so much on an individual and how that one person learns, that person then doesn't see that other people learn differently. They don't understand that other people have equally important needs, they lose the ability to share in understanding and asking for help from peers. In some ways I think it even encourages a student to feel the opposite of its goal. That is, instead of helping students to feel accepted in general society, they may feel even more isolated and unusual.

Students are durable creatures too, believe it or not. Keeping an open communication with your students that invites feedback and clarification will help to eliminate most conflicts in dealing with different cultural backgrounds. Encouraging understanding when mistakes are made as well as correcting when necessary will help the student to understand that not everytime someone says something wrong, it's meant to be offensive. I understand that I am a white middle class woman with absolutely no difficulties or personal challenges of my own as such, but I didn't fly off the handle or completely shut down when someone asked if I was German, or thought lefse was German, or funnier yet, when someone asked if I was Asian (you would be shocked to know how often that happens).

I worry that when we start to bring up differences and expressing uniquenss and individuality it makes people develop a belief that they are incapable of being understood and these mistakes (within reason, of course) are reasons to become angry and expect to be treated differently, which is a little contradictory of what it means to be created equal. And yes, I do know that this is not always the case, and some people are stupid and ignorant and can't be changed and that is offensive. I'm not arguing against that. I'm saying that for the vast majority of the population, this shouldn't be a problem, and drawing attention to life's frequent awkward moments is making a small barrier even greater to pass.


  1. I hope that you are not feeling quite as overwhelmed/annoyed by the Goebel article after class. I totally understand why it caused this reaction in you—but I hope also that you see too that we need to constantly consider how we are perceiving our students, given their and our cultures/frames of reference/experiences/whatever can be quite different. This doesn’t mean you have to change everything you do! It does mean that you need to be explicit with them about WHY you do the things you do, because they might not automatically get it. I don’t think this equates to reaching every single student every single day, as Caitlin pointed out. You are absolutely right to say that keeping things open with students will go a long way! (And I hope no one would argue that just because you are a white, middle class woman that your life is always 100% easy and you have no struggles. No, that is not the point of multiculturalism.)

  2. Yes, I did understand that it was something to be aware of. I am, in general, trained to look at these articles under a very critical eye as I studied research papers in my psychology classes, and understanding limitations was part of understanding what the research meant. When I do read these articles, I find it more helpful to focus on a small aspect of it that stuck out as I was reading. Sometimes that means I ignore a large part of it, and do not acknowledge some things (such as in the FPE post). I do also understand that I shouldn't be considered struggle-less as a white middle class woman. However, when I've made the argument before on mixing up cultures that I, or white people in general, belong to, I have been told it is not the same thing. I would agree with that to some extent, but I don't think it's fair to write off generalizations and stereotypes because we are the dominant culture, which was the point (in a sarcastic way) of that statement.

    I think perhaps my posts seem much more narrow-minded than I am when it comes to multiculturalism and the literature closely associated with it. I think because it is a fairly new thing in terms of curriculum, it has kinks to work out that are sometimes avoided.

    I should also add that I don't think that all multicultural literature is set at a lower level in terms of challenge and artistic ability (and I do understand that my feelings on Toni Morisson are strictly my opinion, and I'm probably the only one that feels that way, but while I agree that she does write using the elements you noted, I just feel like they are too structured and intentional for my taste). I've read plenty that are challenging, but few are being chosen. I think it's insulting to the genre to pick a book simply because it is considered "multicultural," which is what I experienced at the school I taught at. This was a point that I brought up in our small group discussions in class, but did not clarify much in my post, as I didn't want to bore Ann to tears.

    Jill, I will try to be less critical of these articles in the future. It is something I've been trying to work on, I swear.