Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Do I Do What I Do?

I am starting a new unit that is not in my curriculum. I had a student interested in reading about the Holocaust.  I gave her a book and she started talking about it to her friends.  Then she shared the book during our Morning Meeting.  More and more students started asking me about the Holocaust.  Finally, I asked them if they wanted to really learn about it.  They all said yes.  
So here I am, wondering how in the world I am going to fit this into my already overloaded schedule.  I put it off for a week, hoping they would forget.  They didn't.  So I thought I would bring it into reading.  Instead of doing a genre study, we would do a topic study.  Sounds good. In fact, I could even bring the topic into writing if I had them research and write about their findings.  Hmmm. I could get away with this.  

I gathered as many fiction and non-fiction books I could on the topic, had them choose books and asked them to get together with their reading partners to decide what they really wanted to learn about. They each chose an essential question (Do you like my use of teacher language there?) and began.  

But I still wasn't sure what I wanted the purpose to be.  Yes, they wanted to learn about the Holocaust.  Yes, I was going to have them do some great work reading and writing about it.  But what was the point of it all.  And then I figured it out.  Propaganda.

If I had them learn all about the Holocaust through the lens of propaganda....Hitler was incredibly successful because of propaganda.  What if we studied advertising, looking at propaganda today?  Diane Cordell gave me some great links, the best of which was  What if we talked politics today?  John Boehner gave me great fodder by calling the sequester, "Obama's Sequester."  What if we looked back at the Civil Rights Movement? Teaching Tolerance's movie about The Children's March helped here. How is this propaganda?  Can the children learn from this?  Can we use propaganda to create posters in the school convincing kids to be upstanders against bullies (we are reading about bullies this month as a school)?

We started the project, they kids are loving it, focused, enthusiastic, reading, writing, researching, and learning.  I know that I have linked it to my curriculum so I can feel comfortable with it.  But it still felt like I was doing something wrong.  Until I started to think about why I teach.

I don't teach so the children will do well on state tests.  I don't teach so I will get a good score on my APPR assessment.  I certainly don't do it for the fame and fortune.  I teach because I want my world to be better and I hope that my students will be the ones to make it so.

How then does a unit on the Holocaust and propaganda help?  Maybe they can learn that everything they hear about how Muslims want to harm Americans doesn't pertain to most Muslims and "Y", the lone Muslim in my class can be proud of his religion instead of ashamed of it.  Maybe they can learn that not all Latin Americans are living on welfare and taking from our government.  Then "J" won't have to feel uncomfortable telling people she is from Ecuador.  Maybe they will learn to be aware of news reports, commercials, and magazine ads, knowing that they might have a skewed perspective that cannot always be trusted.  And maybe, just maybe, they will make this world a better place for all this learning.

I don't teach so my students will learn to read and write for a test.  But preparing them for a test doesn't mean I have to give up all the reasons I do teach.  I want my students to be better.  I am counting on them to save us all.

Why do you teach?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Global Connections

I belong to an amazing group called The Global Classroom Project.  I love this group.  The teachers have fabulous ideas, talk about the ups and downs of global connections, and seek out collaborators.  If you haven't looked at the site, you must check it out.
Recently, a blog was posted by Michael Graffin as a reposting of a blog created by a student in Honduros.  The class had just completed a mystery skype call and this student was discussing the awkward, nearly offensive questions asked by the mystery class, which turned out to be in Texas.  The two questions in point: "Do you guys use cell phones?" and "How does your house look like?"  You can read her blog to see her view about these questions.

This started a conversation in the Google group about being careful how we communicate with each other and what questions we ask.  So I just want to put in my two cents on the subject.  (You should note that I already talked online with Michael about my response. He, as usual, invites conversation.)

My purpose for Going Global with my class is an idealistic one.  I hope that my kids do a better job than we have.  I want them to understand, accept, and connect with others, regardless of language, religion, race, gender, etc.  I want them to learn that we are all people, deserving of respect and consideration.  And I want them to remember this when it comes time to work with others, have discussions with others, argue with others.  We are all people!

When I was growing up, in the 60s, we were just starting to talk about differences as positive.  "Be yourself."    "Love who you are and love the one you're with."  But, along with loving each other, I was taught not to insult anyone.  And it was insulting to stare, to ask questions, to recognize differences.  So we never even looked at each other.  Really.  If a person of color walked into the restaurant where I was eating, in my very white neighborhood, everyone would look away.  To make eye contact might indicate that you were afraid of them or didn't want them there.  So, in order to show our respect, we just didn't look.  Strange but true.  I wasn't taught to do this.  It was modeled for me.

Did this work?  Of course not.  I learned that people are different and deserve different treatment from one another.  Poor and rich, black and white, abled and disabled.  Labels were important.  They defined for us how to act and how to treat each other.

But I have grown up.  I have learned that this is not the way.  And I have taken it upon myself to model differently for my students and my own child.  I ask questions.  I talk about clothing, jewelry, political beliefs, religious practices.  I ask questions.  And I keep talking.  And I make eye contact.  And I smile.  And I invite people to sit down with me.  And I make plans to go to dinner, the movies, a book club.  And I ask questions.

My students recently did a mystery skype call with a class in Texas.  Once we figured out the states we came from, the questions started flying.  They thought we were all gangsters (New Yorkers are usually depicted that way).  We thought they were all cowboys.  After finding out the truth was quite the opposite, we laughed about our misconceptions.  What did we learn?  That Texan students like the same music we do, watch the same movies and tv shows, and shop at the same stores.  Hmmm.  Not so different.  The accents were certainly different but not much else was.  And my students now have a new understanding of Texans and other Southerners.

I work in a very multicultural climate.  We often have conversations about similarities with our religious rituals, our family dinners, and our weekend responsibilities.  We are so different and yet so similar. I don't ever want my students to stop asking questions.  Eventually, their questions will get more mature, less "insulting".  And, maybe someday, they won't need to ask questions about each other.  They will just accept and understand.  

What do you think?