Illuminating the Invisible: How Privilege Has Shaped My Experiences

At the lovely Katia Hildebrandt’s suggestion, I have started reading Revealing the Invisible:  Confronting Passive Racism in Teacher Education by Sherry Marx, a book discusses the “damaging effects of unaddressed racism and white privilege on the capacity of white teachers to effectively teach students of colour.”  Chapter 2:  “Illuminating the Invisible” explored the ways that Whites make sense of Whiteness and colour as well as the common role model and saviour constructs developed by preservice teachers. This chapter connected to an assignment (curriculum-as-place.docx) I did last year for ECS 210, in which I wrote an autobiography to represent my identity and to identify significant moments in my journey that shaped my life, beliefs, and values as a future teacher.  After I handed it in, I was asked to reflect on whether I included the ways in which my gender, race, class, sexuality and other parts of my identity affected my life experiences.  I reflected that I was able to leave those parts of my identity out because I occupy positions of privilege in those areas, but I did not reflect on the specific ways my experiences were affected by my privilege. To be honest, the reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because it’s not comfortable to recognize the ways my privilege has affected my life experiences.  It means I have to own up to the fact that the experiences I’ve had and the things I have accomplished are not all due to my own hard work.  After reading Chapter 2, I knew it was time to go back to this assignment and compare what I wrote to the patterns of dialogue between Marx and the pre-service teachers she engages with. The first thing I noticed when reading over my autobiography was the pattern of writing about myself as a role model/”self-aggrandizing helper” in my volunteer work, just as many of the young women in the book do.  When I discussed my first three experiences, I wrote in a very self-centred way, focusing on the ways I was able to help the youth I worked with.  For example, I wrote about how I helped a child come out of his shell, how my support was so encouraging to students in the Functionally Integrated Program, and how I could provide new and exciting experiences for my mentee.  My language consistently focused on myself and what I was doing to help the underprivileged youth I worked with. Marx explains that “while those acting as benevolent role models and saviours are often lauded as self-sacrificing, well intentioned, and in possession of hearts of gold, this construct of the helper necessitates that the person helped is constructed as needy, dependent, and incapable of achieving on her or his own” (pg. 72).  Looking back, I think I had a deficit perception of some of the youth I worked with, which in turn allowed me to construct an idealistic version of myself as a role model. In the next part of my autobiography, I discussed my experience on a humanitarian trip to Pachuca, Mexico, with the U of R Cougar Women’s Soccer Team without acknowledging that it was my privilege as a middle class female and member of a university soccer team that enabled me to go on this trip.  Additionally, I did not once refer to how my whiteness affected this experience.  This connects with when Becky, one of the preservice teachers, stated regarding children of colour, “They are people.  I’m a person.  And… I just like kids.  So, I just talked to them.  You know, I don’t really think about [racial and cultural differences.] (pg. 48).  Similarly, when I wrote about my experience in Mexico, I tried to cling to my sense of racial neutrality, using colour-blind language and avoiding discussion of experiences that emphasized my Whiteness.  For example, at one of the elementary schools we visited, my teammates and I signed autographs for children at the school for almost an hour straight.  They treated us like celebrities because of our Whiteness; however, I preferred to think that they were just excited to have visitors painting murals at their school. Another example of ignoring my Whiteness is from a blog post I wrote on our trip blog.  Describing the tour of Technológico de Monterrey, I wrote, “We received many curious stares, for a few possible reasons: because we were all wearing matching grey Cougars t-shirts, because we were all in shorts while most students were wearing jeans and sweaters, or (most likely) because we’re a group of 21 incredibly good-looking girls (plus Bob!).”  I am quite sure that the real reason we were stared at was that the majority of my team was White. Marx explains that this desire to shrug off the marker of race is a common feeling among Whites because we are so used to our race being neutral/invisible/normal.  She goes on to contrast this with the markedness of colour, explaining that Whites often perceive the White racial group as being extremely complex and ambiguous, while perceiving cultures of colour as homogenous, tight-knit identities.  Looking back, I think I also perceived Mexican culture in that way at times.  I remember making comments about not wanting to leave because there was such a strong sense of culture and shared history.  Through these comments, I was implying that “Whites are so diverse they don’t share any of those markers of culture.”  There are definitely the same elements of diversity within Mexican culture as within White culture, however it is harder (for me) to see because of the stereotypes/single stories I have absorbed. My privilege shaped the first three experiences I discussed by making it possible for me to view myself as an idealized role model while holding deficit views of the youth I worked with.  My privilege as an able-bodied middle class female made it possible for me to go on the humanitarian trip to Pachuca.  While in Pachuca, my White privilege made it possible for me to ignore my Whiteness completely and to think about Mexican culture as homogenous. This reflection forced me to make sense of my experiences in an uncomfortable way, which was necessary because I knew that the ways I had made sense of my experiences in my autobiography were not only inaccurate but complicit with oppression. Now my challenge is to continue reflecting on how my privilege shapes my experiences.  Even though it is a really difficult, uncomfortable process, I know it is worth it.


Carmichael Outreach Reflection

Last week, for my Health Education class, we broke into two groups and toured Carmichael Outreach, a community based organization in Regina that “serves the marginalized of Regina by advocating on their behalf and by providing a range of programming that includes preventative measures and harm reduction.”  They emphasize a non-judgmental environment and a person to person approach, rather than a medical approach.

Carmichael Outreach offers a huge variety of programs, including a coffee room, community garden, food security and nutrition, a housing coordinator, an immunization program, a needle exchange program, used clothing and small household item depot, and more.  I had no idea that all of these programs were available in Regina, let alone all these programs being offered from one organization.

As I walked into the doors of Carmichael, soup cans in hand, I immediately felt very out of place.  First impression:  we are all white and they are all brown.  Clear divisions.  Us and them.  I tried to listen to the woman guiding the tour, telling us about the amazing, necessary work they do at Carmichael, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how privileged I am.

Usually privilege is obscure and very easy to ignore.  I can get through most days believing I have earned the things I have and that my life is the way it is because of my own hard work and the hard work of my parents.  That day at Carmichael, several of my positions of privilege (being white, middle class, able-bodied, not having a mental illness), were blatantly apparent.  It was obvious that my life is the way it is because of this privilege, and that made me feel uncomfortable and awkward and guilty.

I know that I don’t have to feel guilty about my privilege because I can’t help it, but I couldn’t stop feeling guilty throughout the tour.  I kept thinking about the combined value of just the clothing that my classmates and I were wearing and how much money that could bring to an organization like this.

Back to the tour.  I was really surprised at the number of containers of food they give out every day at Carmichael – up to 250 of the tall yogurt containers (which they are always in need of)!  The need for this food security program has gone up in the last five years, she told us.  I was also impressed with the used clothing and small household item depot, where anyone in need can come take them, free of charge.  This is something I could easily help out with by donating old clothes and winter attire that I don’t use anymore.  That’s one small way I could help make a difference, but I still feel guilty.

I am aware of a few other supports in Regina to assist families, including the Food Bank and Regina Women’s Transition House.  Other than those, I’m pretty ignorant about the supports available and I definitely need to do some research to change that.

This experience made me think about how I will support students who live in poverty situations in my future classroom.  First of all, I need to become more educated on the supports available for families in Regina so that I am able to refer families to these supports or make suggestions that might help them.  In my classroom, I want to have breakfast and snacks available for all my students, so as not to single anyone out but to make sure they have all eaten.  I also want to try to do classroom fundraisers for field trips or other experiences so that students aren’t left out if they cannot afford the trip.  I want to teach for equity – not equality – which means doing my best to level the playing field so everyone can learn to their full potential.

Also, I will need to examine the stereotypes I bring and be careful not to deficit theorize about students’ families.  For example, if parents don’t come to a parent-teacher interview, I hope to be invested in the relationship enough to know that it’s not that they don’t care about their child’s schooling, but that they might have other priorities that are taking over.  I want to be open, caring, and easy to talk to, not judgmental.  I also want to have high expectations for all my students and make sure I label them as at-promise rather than at-risk, because I know the expectations (high or low) I place on students are likely to be fulfilled.

Finally, I think it’s really important to talk about poverty in the classroom.  If I make it a taboo topic, I am placing shame on my students who live out that reality.  Without singling anyone out, we can talk and learn about it together.  I want to help my students break down stereotypes they might have about people who live in poverty and find ways our class can make a difference.  One resource I have been exposed to for doing this is the Ladybug Foundation.

So I have some ideas for what I need to do in my future classroom to support students who live in poverty.  But after my experience at Carmichael Outreach, I’m wondering:  What do I do with my feelings of guilt and awkwardness?  How do I close the gap between self and other that I felt?  How can I use my privilege to make a difference?

Any suggestions would be much appreciated!


Creating A SAFE Space for All Students

“I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I know where it starts.” – Michael Cappello

On Friday, I was mandated to attend the Social Justice & Anti-Racist Anti-Oppressive Forum on Education (SAFE), which was being held for the first time at the University of Regina as part of my program. If I could, I would relive this day over and over again, going to each and every session and listening to the keynote speakers, Michael Cappello and Shauneen Pete, share their wisdom and conversations with me each and every time.

During the keynote, I was so mesmerized by the conversation and the learning taking place that I completely forgot to take notes, but luckily I have connected with a great group of classmates, who I will mention later on in this post, that reminded me through conversation about the most memorable moments. Michael and Shauneen started the keynote talking about March 2014, when the University of Regina cheerleaders made headlines for dressing up as Cowboys and Indians for their last practice and posted the pictures to Twitter. The result of this media attention was a mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ for the cheer team with Dr. Pete. She spoke of this training during the keynote, talking about how the cheerleaders adamantly stated that they were “good girls” in the session. They were “good girls” who volunteered, kept their grades up, and never meant to hurt anybody. But who is allowed to be good girls? Who is allowed to infantilize themselves in order to shirk responsibility for their actions? By simply saying that they were “good girls” they were displaying an unconscious dominance over Indigenous women who are often sexualized and treated as women throughout their childhood. Who gets the privilege to dress up as ‘Indians’ and play fantasy, and who has to wear the scars that come with that term every day?

After they had asked these critical questions, Mike and Shauneen started to talk about the impact that this anti-racism education, or as the university called it ‘sensitivity training’ affected them. Mike started by saying something that I connected deeply to: “This work does not cost me enough.” As a white woman, if I don’t fight for anti-racist and anti-oppressive education, nobody will really notice, but the moment that I do, I am given an “ally cookie”, as Mike called it. This cookie hails me as some sort of hero, fighting for the rights of others when I could choose to ignore inequality, but this is not a cookie I want. Since when has it become a job worthy of hero status to believe in equality? What kind of society do we live in when fighting to raise others up and let their voices, their stories, and their perspectives be heard is worthy of reward? This should be normative, but it’s not. This doesn’t mean that I will stop fighting for anti-racism and anti-oppression within schools and the broader society, it just means that I now realize that these rewards are a form of dominance in themselves. Shauneen, however, brought it home to all of the people that I spoke with during the day. She talked about the reaction of the cheerleaders to the training, how they discredited her as too emotional and too angry. She brought Mike with her to meet the cheerleaders so that he could offer his perspective on the events as well, and this led the cheerleaders to think that she was ill prepared and they were not the only ones. Shauneen was also made out to be a villain by the media, with one interviewer continually trying to reinforce that the cheerleaders were “good girls”, and why were they being forced to pay for a simple mistake?

The conversation continued to a response to the situation from one of Mike’s friends, who asked him “So if six-year-olds play Cowboys & Indians, is that racist?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Racism is often not the result of individual behavior; it is systematic. The fact that six-year-olds know these stereotypes is proof that racism exists within society. Six-year-olds playing Cowboys & Indians should be used as proof that racism and the stereotypes that come with it run rampant within society, not a way to try to fight this thinking. Throughout the day, I kept thoughts of this keynote and the many lessons that it taught me at the forefront of my mind.

For my first session of the day, I attended Teaching Students with Significant Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities: How to Make a Choice presented by Dr. Scott Thompson. Teaching students with special needs is something that is close to my heart because of my past experience with Campus for All students and the Big Sky Center for Learning and Being Astonished, so I wanted to attend a lecture on this subject to become more knowledgeable about how this relates to social justice. Two main lessons came out of this lecture. First, Dr. Thompson spoke about the assumptions that people hold about students with disabilities. He noted that often the expectations for these students are either over or under estimated simply because of the disability that they have. We need to give our students the best educational experience possible, regardless of disability. The way that we can do this is getting to know where each student is at and scaffolding the experiences that we give them to ensure that they feel confident in their learning. The second lesson that Dr. Thompson taught us was to make sure not to talk about students with special needs in front of them as if they cannot hear or understand what we are saying. All that this does is promote aggression and learned helplessness. Every person has the ability to make choices and to learn, but if they are continuously treated like they do not have this ability, they will no longer try.

The second session that I attended was Place-Conscious Teaching for Social and Ecological Justice presented by Karen McIvor. I was interested in this session because place-conscious teaching is something that I see as very valuable and I wanted to know how I could relate this to social justice. Place-conscious education brings together critical pedagogy, which focuses on deconstructing dominant narratives and ways of living, with place-based education, which brings the environment into learning experiences. One important lesson that I learned from Karen in this session is that it is not enough to simply take students to a space; we must deconstruct the places that we take students in some of these experiences. Deconstruction takes place by asking questions like: what has happened here, what is happening here, and what could happen here? Place-conscious teaching doesn’t have to involve big adventures to gain knowledge, it can happen in our own backyards or in our school grounds, but it is important to provide students with these experiences to enhance their school experiences. This work is very important to connecting youth to the community around them, as evidenced in Heartwood’s Circle of Awesomeness, and is used by Karen to help students at risk within her school gain credits for any number of classes while learning through experiences that are meaningful to them.

For my third and last session of the day, I attended Unsettling Treaty Education and Anti-Oppressive Education: Theory into Practice presented by Chauntel Baudu and Tamara Smith. This was one of the sessions that I was looking forward to the most, since treaty education and anti-oppressive education are two aspects of my education that I am very passionate about, but I haven’t gotten much instruction on how they actually work in a classroom. Chauntel started this session off by talking about anti-oppressive education, which she describes as creating togetherness rather than separation in school environments. She started on her path to anti-oppressive education in much the same way that I have. She was taking classes at the university and imagined having the same deep conversations about anti-oppressive education that were occurring in her class with her students and she made it a reality. One key lesson that I learned from Chauntel is that if I want to talk about anti-oppression within my classroom, I need to give students the tools to unpack their ‘invisible knapsacks’ effectively. If students are to talk about oppression, they need to know the forms of oppression that affect them, whether it is a positive or negative affect. It is important to teach critical literacy and have students identify whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced within texts so that they can identify the oppression that exists. Another key aspect of anti-oppressive teaching is reflection, not only for teachers but for students as well. We need to reflect to figure out where we come from, what we know, why we know it, and what has changed over time to figure out what students need from us as anti-oppressive educators. Chauntel stated that anti-oppressive education doesn’t have to be overwhelming; you don’t have to make dramatic leaps and bounds to make a difference within your classroom. Anti-oppressive education is simply about increasing your knowledge of oppression and working to fight it in ways that you feel you can because when we know better, we can do better.

After Chauntel’s presentation, Tamara took the floor to talk about treaty education. Tamara spoke about the importance of teacher initiative in treaty education. Even though it is mandated in Saskatchewan, many teachers we will meet in schools choose to remain ignorant of treaty education in an attempt to retain innocence when thinking about the past of colonialization in Saskatchewan, but at what point does this ignorance become unacceptable? Often in social studies and history classes, the focus is on the ‘strength of the homesteaders’ while the strength and benevolence of the Indigenous people is ignored. We claim ignorance to avoid the trauma of admitting uncomfortable truths, but we need to ask ourselves who benefits from this ignorance and who is oppressed by it. If you are going to begin teaching treaty education, you must first be open to growth and learning and you must accept that you may feel alone on this journey, but you must not give up. If the support does not exist in the school that you find yourself working in, and even if it does exist, there are supports to help such as the Office of the Treaty Commission, elders, and leaders within the area of treaty education. Many teachers fear treaty education because they do not want to make mistakes, but this is where your own initiative in discovering knowledge and your humility becomes essential. We must learn to admit that we are not perfect, that we are humans that make mistakes, because this is what makes any subject that we teach real to our students.

To close the day, I had a discussion with some of my classmates about what we took away from the many sessions that we sat in during the conference. We took the opportunity to introduce a group that five of my classmates and I have started on campus with the support of Michael Cappello, called STARS Regina, which is dedicated to blogging resources for future and practicing teachers as well as providing professional development sessions revolving around social justice education. Our group met up for supper after these conversations with our classmates and some of the presenters and talked about our main takeaways from the conference and where we will move forward as a group. Throughout our discussion, our main focus was our passion for anti-racism and anti-oppression within our teaching. In one of the sessions that I attended, the presenter continually told us to teach with our passion and even if you feel alone at first, those people that think similar to you will find you and those conversations will be available for support. During the times when the work seems to hard to go on, we need to keep in mind the ripple effect that our efforts have on our students and the community surrounding us.

As we moved forward from the keynote at the beginning of the day, we were asked to consider what we were going to do to start accepting the gifts of knowledge and culture that First Nations and Metis people have been offering for years. By the end of the day, I was asking myself what had held me back from going to ceremonies and having conversations that led me to learn more about First Nations and Metis culture, I realized that more often than not, it was fear of being the only white person at these events and disrespecting their traditions and culture simply because I do not know enough. When I catch myself in these thoughts in the future, I hope that I will have the voice of Sheena Koops, a new friend that I met two weeks ago with my classmates in STARS Regina, in my head telling me “Go forth and be awkward”. Embrace the situations that you feel uncomfortable with, because that is where you find new knowledge that transforms your thinking. More often than not, your willingness to learn about the knowledge and the culture of First Nation and Metis people will not be seen as a sign of respect, and if you do blunder, there will be someone there to teach you how to do better at the next event that you attend. Make those important connections, go to the ceremonies and events around your community, get involved; even if you stumble, there will be someone there to catch you and you will become a better teacher for it.


Reflections on a Field Trip – Part 2

Almost two weeks have passed since our field trip to Fort Qu’Appelle. Finally, I have a chance to write about the second half of our day. I will close my eyes and drift back…

Excitement. It is tangible and all around us, in our voices as we discuss Sheena’s work at Bert Fox, under our feet as we amble the streets of Fort Qu’Appelle, and in our eyes, as we seek the treaty monuments we have come to see.

Mike tells us about the two treaty monuments, hinting that they are very different. We stumble across the first one, put in place by First Nations Chiefs in 1987. It is a beautiful sculpture of a First Nations man holding a golden eagle with his gaze turned up to the sky. The plaque tells us that he is praying to the Great Spirit for allowing him to take the golden eagle for ceremonial purposes, which demonstrates reverence for the environment. Another plaque explains how the First Nations peoples agreed to share this land with newcomers peacefully, in an exchange of solemn promises. This monument was set up to reaffirm the chiefs’ commitment to the spirit and intent of Treaty Four. It also commemorates a burial ground, where Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine peoples are known to be buried.

             

“Beautiful,” I breathe quietly.

“And hopeful, isn’t it?” asks Mike. 

Hopeful, indeed. Although some Treaty promises were not being fulfilled, the Chiefs still showed their commitment to the Treaty, hoping that the oral understanding they had come to would be honoured.

We are quieter as we walk back to Mike’s vehicle, reflecting. We squish in and drive around, looking for the other treaty monument. We talk about how there are no signs for these important historical monuments. I think aloud how crazy it is that I grew up only 15 minutes away Fort Qu’Appelle, and yet I had no idea that these monuments existed until a few days ago. Sometimes we are blind to – or maybe choose not to see – what is right in front of us.

We find the treaty monument and notice it does have a sign – a tiny brown “Point of Interest #3” sign. We joke about whether we have seen points of interest one and two, and then walk briskly into the open green space, bordered by trees with a tall, white monument standing proudly in the middle. Our pace quickens because we are all excited to critique the monument and compare/contrast it with the monument put in place by the First Nations Chiefs.


  A hush falls over us as we move around the monument to read the plaques.

                                     

“Ceded all their rights, titles, and privileges to all lands?” asks Meagan incredulously.

“Wow…”

“That is so crazy.” We are all murmuring our disbelief at this misrepresentation of Treaty.

Mike nods at our reactions. He knew this was coming.

“I was expecting the language to be problematic, but I wasn’t expecting it to be historically inaccurate,” I say, shaking my head.

I think about the stark contrast between the explanations of Treaty on the two monuments. Solemn promises, sharing the land, peace, the spirit and intent of Treaty. Ceded all their rights, titles, and privileges to all lands forever.

As we walk away, Christine mentions how appropriate it is that the monument is white. We laugh. She is right; it was put in place by white people and for white people. This understanding of Treaty is the one that has benefitted the Europeans and disadvantaged the First Nations peoples for years and years.

We decide to take a drive over to Lebret before we head back to Regina. I express my frustration that Lebret is even closer to where I grew up – I even went church in Lebret when I was a little girl – and I had only found out about two weeks before that there had been a residential school there. How was I so blind to the history that was right in my backyard?

As we drive toward Lebret, someone points out some brick pillars on the side of the road and asks what they are. I have never noticed them before and no one knows for sure what they are. We decide to go see the beautiful Sacred Heart church first and then go back and check it out. The church is breathtaking. Mike stops the vehicle so Meagan can stand up and take pictures through the sunroof.

We turn around and go back to the brick pillars we saw. Mike pulls over and we all pile out and cross the road, eager to explore.

“Could it be the residential school gate?” we wonder. We don’t know for sure but we can’t think of anything else it could be. We walk a little further down, behind the gate. It is exquisite. The sun shines down on us and shimmers across the lake. We take it all in.

We take a group picture, capturing the beginning of STARS: Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society. I am grateful to be a part of this group. Together, we are exploring the past and seeing connections to our society and our lives today. Together, we are learning and making decisions about what actions we can take as people and as teachers because of that learning.

STARS


Reflections on a Field Trip

On Wednesday, I had the amazing opportunity to go on a field trip out to Fort Qu’Appelle with four of my classmates and Mike Cappello.  We decided to go on this field trip because Mike had to pick up some magazines from Sheena Koops, a teacher from Bert Fox Community High School, and he thought meeting her would be a valuable experience for us.  Was he ever right!!

We met with Sheena for lunch and I think we were all captivated by her passion for treaty education and also her real, down-to-earth nature.  I learned a lot just from this lunch meeting, but I’ll try to summarize!

  • There will be resistance to treaty education.  Sheena integrates treaty education and First Nations content into her English classes and she gets phone calls and emails from upset and/or angry parents every year.  She described it as “slaps on the hand,” or being disciplined for teaching this content.  Now ask yourself:  Would she be getting the same reactions if she were integrating health education content into her English classes?  Highly unlikely.  That parents and students don’t think treaty education is important or worth learning about is evidence of structural racism.
  • Action research can be understood as a way of being rather than something we do.  It is this never ending cycle of action – reflection – research – more reflection – more action.  It means developing a questioning mindset and a desire to understand what works for you and what does not.  Seeing action research this way is a way of making your own professional development, because you are choosing to be engaged and are continuously and actively constructing your own learning.
  • One of Sheena’s goals for the next 10 years of her career is to help her students learn through discomfort rather than let them off the hook or consoling them when things get uncomfortable.  She struggles with this because she is so caring and compassionate, or as she said, “When I see tears, I have tears!”  This would be really difficult to do, so I think it’s a fantastic goal.  Mike also made the point that everyone can develop their own personal style of helping students learn through discomfort, which means you can stay true to yourself but still push students through that process.

We also got to explore the amazing magazines that Sheena’s students have created over the last few years – the ones Mike will be using as textbooks in his social studies class.  The work those students put into those magazines is just incredible!  It was so inspiring to see how knowledgeable the students were about treaty education and how powerfully they could write about it.

Sheena invited us into Bert Fox Community School, gave us a tour, and introduced us to her class.  She used us as a “teachable moment” and connected our presence to what they were learning about journalling by interviewing us as if she were a reporter.  It was really cool to see that she just ditched her lesson plan and embraced the opportunity (which she was still able to connect to student learning)!  I really want to be able to do that when I’m a teacher.

Click here to see us getting interviewed by Sheena in her classroom.

So this post covers the first half of our field trip!  I will be writing another one to cover the second half, which was equally as exciting.  I am so grateful that we got the chance to meet with a dedicated, spirited teacher who was willing to listen, discuss, and support us as new teachers who are interested in anti-oppressive education.  As a group and as a whole faculty, we are starting to normalize the conversation about social justice within the education profession.  I can’t wait to see what this will bring!


Response to a Critique of the ‘HeForShe’ Campaign

I – along with the rest of the world – was recently captivated by Emma Watson’s moving speech on feminism at the UN, which launched the ‘HeForShe’ campaign.  First of all, Emma Watson has been my girl crush since I was in junior high, and second, I was pleased to hear her clarify the definition of feminism, as it has been misunderstood by many.  Watson states that feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”  She goes on to invite men to join the movement for gender equality, pointing out that gender stereotypes imprison men as well as women.  Finally, she ends by encouraging everyone to ask themselves, “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”  I found that ending really empowering because it implies that even though I may feel small, I can make a difference and there is no reason to wait.

Now, that video sat well with me for about a week.  I talked to others about the speech, praising Emma Watson and spreading word of the ‘HeForShe’ campaign.  I did have a prickle of discomfort when I was thinking about the name of the campaign because it seems to imply that men are stepping in and saving women, but I pushed it aside and told myself I was being nitpicky.

Then I read this critique of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, which points out some problematic things:

  • There has been little discussion of what men who sign the pledge can actually do to improve the lives of women.
  • Emma Watson acknowledges that she was privileged because her parents and mentors did not expect less of her because she was a girl, but does not acknowledge how being white, wealthy, able-bodied, or cisgender have affected her life experience.
  • The campaign reinforces the gender binary and excludes those “whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes,” the very people who are more likely to be oppressed.
  • The campaign fails to invite those whose voices need to be heard the most – the voices of non-white women, trans men, and non-binary people.
  • There has been little discussion about how HeForShe can improve the lives of women and non-binary people who experience intersectional oppressions, like racism, transphobia, and fatphobia.

The critique ends with the suggestion that Watson should have handed the microphone to Laverne Cox (transgender actress, LGBT activist) or Janet Mock (transgender woman, transgender rights activist) if she really wanted to be a “game-changer” for feminism.  After reading this critique, I felt a little defensive of Emma Watson.  I have also been in a position where I was called out for not acknowledging how my privilege shaped my life experiences.  That’s the tricky thing about privilege – it can easily slip by unnoticed when you’re the one who has it.  Also, I wondered, isn’t she managing her privilege by using it for good in standing up for women whose voices aren’t heard?  (Except that she is only standing up for certain women.)

I agree with the critique in its concerns about the exclusion of non-binary people and I’m really ashamed that I didn’t notice that when I first listened to the speech.  I need to get back into the practice of being critical of what I read and listen to.  Additionally, haven’t been able to find anything that explain what the ‘HeForShe’ campaign will actually do to end persisting inequalities.

What do you think of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign?  Did you initially agree with it, or were you critical of its shortcomings?  Could Emma Watson have used her privilege in a more productive way?


Assessm…what?

What is assessment and how do we effectively use it in the classroom? The answer to this question, for myself anyways, remains unknown. Looking back at my experience in school, assessment was based around tests – I pushed myself to get “good grades” and based my self-worth on how “well” I was doing in school. Years later, we still see schools as competitive institutions, which I believe is a result of living in a success-driven society. Recollections of stress, anxiety and fear still resonate with me when thinking about assessment. This is something that I hope students in my classroom will never experience. Today, as a pre-service teacher, I find assessment petrifying – but how can I move away from the negativity? I still have not found the “key” to successful assessment and am unsure if I ever will. However, I have compiled a few thoughts on how I might approach assessment at this point in my journey to becoming an educator.

  • Assessment needs to be based off of entire life experience, not just learning that takes place in the classroom – what could potentially affect learning?
  • Pre-assessment is vitally important – we need to know what prior knowledge and experience students are bringing to the classroom. We cannot assume or have pre-set expectations of students, as this only sets them up for failure. Once we have completed a pre-assessment, planning learning experiences that cater to the learning styles of all students can be achieved.
  • Differentiated assessment – we need to ensure students are not penalized as a result of oppressive assessment tools. If a student’s learning does not reflect success through an assessment, it could mean that the assessment tool in place is not conducive to their learning style – CHANGE IT UP!
  • Self-reflective teaching practices – allows me to continuously adapt my teaching and assessment strategies to ensure they are effective in supporting success in all learners.
  • Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways – assessed in ways that honor their unique learning styles. Learning that takes place cross-curricular opens up more opportunities to represent learning = more opportunities for a variety of assessments.
  • Have students brainstorm ideas on how they should be assessed – what things should we as educators be looking for when we look at your learning processes? For example: constructing a rubric for an assignment alongside the students, both parties are contributing to the assessment process. Students become leaders in the assessment process – taking responsibility and ownership over their learning.
  • Ensure students are aware of what they are being assessed on and what the assessment will look like – no surprises. It is also important to deliver these instructions in multiple ways (orally, written, pictorially, etc.).
  • Anecdotal records based on observations – showing a progression/growth – assessment that takes place over time.
  • Including students in the assessment process – conferencing/goal setting conversations, self-assessment, and peer-assessment. This allows educators to get more of a “full-picture” idea of student progress – over-time collecting observations.
  • Assessment must reflect what is being taught (instruction) – how can we assess students on something they have yet to learn?
  • Giving students feedback on their work > always assigning a grade – allows students to take constructive feedback and apply it to future learning experiences. This fosters self-confidence/worth, rather than lowering confidence (if a student does not get a grade they are satisfied with).
  • Encouraging students to self-reflect (ex: journal writing) – we as educators can see a reflection of their journey, as well as they can use this as a tool to help them self-assess their learning.
  • Assessment does not solely need to take place at the end of a learning experience – assessment can be ongoing.

Despite reflecting on what my future assessment experiences may look like, there are still things I am unsure of. How am I able to assign a “grade” to all learning experiences? Some learning experiences benefit the student by experiencing personal growth and reflection – how can I place a “grade” on something like that? How do we extend knowledge and learning beyond the summative assessment of an experience? Do we need to perform summative assessment in order to ensure our students have met the delivered outcomes? I believe that the first step in exploring assessment is self-reflection – if we do not reflect, we may not notice areas of improvement within ourselves. Assessment is a journey that I will forever be trying to navigate through alongside students – assessment will be a process involving “we” rather than “me”.


One Size Does NOT Fit All.

“Differentiation is a philosophy or mindset that enables educators to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today so that they can achieve targeted standards – not a set of tools, but a belief system or mindset that educators embrace to meet the unique needs of every learner.” (Chapman and Gregory, p. 2)

As our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, the need for differentiation to be implemented by all educators is crucial. We cannot simply expose children to learning experiences that cater to the needs of a select group – one size does NOT fit all. In order for children to fully immerse themselves into learning, their experiences need to be authentically tweaked to fit their learning styles, interests, prior knowledge and personalities. Every student that enters the classroom brings perspectives and narratives unique to each individual – differentiation allows for students to explore multiple perspectives and narratives, while learning to honor and appreciate diversity. If we as educators hope to provide every student with a positive school experience, differentiation should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

There is a multitude of ways to differentiate in the classroom. The following are some ways to differentiate, along with examples of how I will achieve this throughout my journey as an educator: (Chapman and Gregory, pp. 3-5)

  • Content: Includes what is being taught and the materials used to deliver information. Assignments given to students must cater to their learning styles, while also challenging them to develop new skills. When students are provided with a diversity of materials, deeper learning and ownership of knowledge acquisition can take place. This can include presenting content to students through a variety of mediums (for example, print and digital). Learning experiences need to be authentic and relevant – when a student can connect what they are learning to prior knowledge or experiences, critical thinking and reflection can occur.
  • Assessment Tools – Performing a pre-assessment of prior knowledge and interests is important when differentiating. If we are able to understand what students know about content we will be teaching, we can better plan learning experiences suited to fit their learning styles. Assessment of learning can occur in many different ways and how we assess each student can be decided based on personalities. For example, some students may benefit from having conference-style conversations to discuss their learning progress, while other students may find this intimidating and prefer to be assessed through observation and anecdotal records.
  • Performance Tasks – Allowing students to present their knowledge in a variety of ways is an effective way to differentiate performance tasks. Giving students choice in terms of how they show what they know fosters all learning styles and multiple intelligences. Allowing choice also encourages students to take ownership and responsibility over their learning – if they are doing something they are interested in, their engagement level will be higher!
  • Instructional Strategies – Differentiating instructional strategies involves delivering information in a variety of ways. For example, instead of only delivering instructions for a task orally, you might include written and pictorial instructions to cater to more than one learning style. When one provides students with learning experiences that take different forms (games, lecture style, individual work, group work, etc.), learning remains exciting and appealing to all students. Differentiation of classroom environment can also influence instruction – how the classroom is structured can help students remain engaged in learning. This can include a diversity of seating arrangements, as well as using brain breaks, fidgets, noise blockers, etc.

How will I differentiate? The thought of providing all students with learning experiences that meet their needs is exceedingly overwhelming. I do not expect myself to ever be able to master the task of differentiating, however, I hope to try to provide positive learning experiences that cater to individual needs. Reflective teaching practices will allow me to adapt my teaching and assessment strategies, as well as classroom environment, as necessary – asking myself what is working, what is not, what could be changed, etc. Looking back on my personal school experiences as a child, I remember instances where I felt as though some experiences did not reflect my learning style – the effects of experiences such as this can be detrimental. Therefore, ensuring students feel confident and competent while learning is important; differentiation is the vital tool every educator needs in their toolbox in order to achieve this.

Gregory, G., & Chapman, C. (2013). One Size Doesn’t Fit All. In Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (pp. 1-10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Listening Wholeheartedly – A Response to Nel Noddings

“To get new ideas, to move ahead, we – as educators – should listen to our children and students. When we listen to them, we learn what they are going through, and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching. It can help us to select and arrange curriculum, plan lessons, choose instructional methods, and seek better modes for evaluation. What we learn from students should induce us to reflect on all we do and all we are asked to do.” (Noddings, p. 154)

I believe in the importance of listening to and learning from children – through building relationships and coming to honor their individuality, authentic learning can take place. However, where do we begin on this complex journey? Why should we go above and beyond to try to relate to each and every child in our classroom (although can we ever fully understand narratives that are not our own?)? Do the social constructs, barriers and limitations woven throughout the field of education allow for these types of student-teacher relationships to be built? Education and learning are complex entities, which require students to pursue knowledge in predicated ways. In order to help guide our students through the complexities, we must come to know where their passion lies (what interests them, what gets them excited). Coming to know our students in meaningful ways can be a challenging, but is a task worth exploring.

Before children even enter the classroom, they already have preconceived perceptions as to what will be expected of them throughout their time in school. Feelings of anxiety, fear, insecurity, as well as inadequacy ebb and flow inside many children. In a society where success is greatly influenced by academic achievement, pressure is placed on children to achieve high grades in order to ensure a successful future and to obtain happiness. Despite that many children, as well as educators, might believe this to be true, there is fallacy among the idea that good grades lead to future happiness (Noddings, p. 157). Living and learning in these aggressive ways leave little room to develop passion in terms of knowledge acquisition. The focus should lie on encouraging children to become excited about learning, while giving them choice and advocacy in regards to their learning (needs, wants, goals, dreams). Children need to be given opportunities to explore the realm of learning. While providing choice and personal advocacy is important, children still need to be challenged as well – pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to try new things (that may not necessarily fall under their category of “interests”).

I truly believe in feedback-focused education, opposed to assigning a grade to everything that takes place in my classroom. Think of all the possibilities opened up by merely having a conversation with a child in regards to their learning – conferencing with students to see where they are at and where they see themselves going. Focusing on goal setting and comparing ones’ self to their own strengths, working together to create high-quality learning experiences (Noddings, p. 158). However, as educators are we able to achieve this kind of learning and assessment? Immersed so deeply in a system that constantly drives the importance of grades – is this dream possible? How easy will it be to stray from the competition-driven education experience we know all too well?

Oppression lies deep within the curriculum and the education system, this is something we cannot deny. However, we can help our students to become advocates for their own learning – teaching them the importance of and skills required to make informed decisions about their futures. With all of the pressure to meet both the clearly outlined, as well as the hidden, standards, are students actually learning to their fullest potential? Listening to our students and encouraging them to become life-long learners and to find passion in the acquisition of the diversity of knowledge around them is something educators should strive for. Listening wholeheartedly – something that seems so simplistic, but can open the door to countless opportunities for students – should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

Noddings, N. (2004). Learning from Our Students. ProQuest Education Journals, 154-159.


Standing Up Alone > Sitting Down in Company

Texan news reporter Dale Hansen made a bold decision to defend gay rights on national television, putting himself out there while fully aware of possible destructive repercussions to his actions. His discourse was in response to the negative backlash football star Michael Sam has received by admitting to being gay. Michael, a talented young man who would be a strong asset to any team in the league, will be the first openly gay man to play in the NFL. Before publicly announcing his sexual identity, he was pegged to be chosen in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft. However, he is now expected to go in the fifth round – for a player of his skill level and stature.. shocking how quickly things have changed, no?

“A gay player would not be welcome in a NFL locker room; it would be uncomfortable because that’s a man’s world.”

Seeing as this has caused such uproar, let’s look to some who are currently representing their nation by playing in the league. Men who have been involved in domestic violence, murder, drunk driving, illegal drugs, prostitution, rape, and obstruction of justice are ‘welcome’ in the league, yet Michael Sam is being scrutinized? As Dale Hansen says, these men are WANTED in the league – they are accepted and are looked up to by many. So I ask, what is wrong with this picture? I do not understand how one can honestly believe being gay is WORSE than committing horrendous crimes – I am at a loss for words.

“You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.”

Ellen DeGeneres was inspired by Dale’s willingness to speak out and invited him to be a guest on her show to further spread his striking message to the public. Experiencing similar public backlash when sharing her sexual identity with her fans, she knows the importance of advocating for equal rights. Together they agree on one common objective – you do not need to be LGBTQ to advocate for equal rights, advocating is advocating. Either way, the message is powerful. It is also not expected for you to understand and feel comfortable with other’s identities that differ from your own – you do not live their life, however, they are a PART of your life. That being said, love and respect are reciprocal notions – you cannot expect to receive it, if you are not willing to give it!

Although our society has evolved over time – and some may argue we have made great progress – heterosexual relationships are still viewed to be the norm and ‘that’s just the way it is’. I find it extremely difficult to understand and refuse to accept the high value placed on success in our society, where this success is only attainable to those who fit the norm. Why should someone’s success be hindered based on their identity? Like Dale, I would like to believe there will be a day where differences will be celebrated, not segregated – success will not be determined by superficial perceptions of identity. However, I think our society has a long way to go to get there… We need to stop sitting down, ignoring the discrimination around us, and stand up – what are we waiting for?

“It is not our differences that divide us; it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde


Students & Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society