Thursday, December 03, 2009

Democratic Schools a book by Michael Apple & James Beane

For most people, democracy has been defined as a governmental system, not as the foundational values and principles of a society, such as the concern for rights and dignity of others, being informed and active about social and political issues, with a focus on being critical citizens. I don't remember civics in high school and only vaguely remember it in college, but the focus was on the governmental structures and voting. Trying to image democratic schools is even more difficult, which is the point of this book – to give models of classrooms and schools that embody more than just student voice, but that the whole design of the curriculum, environment, and personal relationships is based on balancing the rights and dignity of individuals with the needs of the collective good.

One of the most powerful quotes, that I think should be at the front of every school building, is that education must “never forget it is dealing with Souls and not Dollars” (p. 23). I think this imperative has become reversed – with too many schools focusing on the dollars generated by test scores and grants, rather than the children being served. This has led to “the feelings of frustration and sometimes cynicism that many educators and community members experience [as] the result of not hearing each others stories” (p. 24).

LaEscuela was a clear example of how a grass-roots movement can make change within a seemingly unchangeable system. The list of problems they faced, on page 32, is the reality of most reforms – resistance from many fronts including administrator, teachers, parents and the public, plus money, materials and time. However, it is clear that with determination and vision, LaEscuela was able to accomplish its goals and continues to support democratic methods. What I found interesting was the recognition that the process of developing LaEscuela is on-going to continually regenerate the understanding of the uniting philosophy that founded the school. As some of the other examples in the book show, if the founding team leaves and the philosophy isn't continually renewed, the school disintegrates. Also, LaEscuela uses many ideas that are often touted as “best practices” such as cooperative learning, thematic units, cross age tutoring, whole language, and common planning time. However, what makes LaEscuela unique is using so many of these practices to compliment each other and as a foundation of its philosophy. Each of these practices, individually, has little impact on student learning – but together are very powerful. Reflection is also built into most of what happens in the school – and not just for the students, but the teachers, administrative team and parents.

Cabrini Green shows what happens when kids are asked real questions without preordained answers -the students became active participants in their own learning and were able to read and write well above their grade level when the motivation was intrinsic. In addition, test scores went up without specific focus on test prep. This doesn't surprise me, but I certainly understand how scary releasing that much control is for teachers and I've heard the types of criticisms he heard. But, it ties well with the classroom described at O'Keefe, where students were actively involved in planning, assessing and participating in curriculum development. I was able to do similar things at my school in Lithuania, which was fostered by several factors (some of which Barbara Brodhagen mentions): a supportive but uninvolved administrator, small class size, interdisciplinary block scheduling, lack of textbooks, and creative students and teacher. The two years in which I taught 6/7 grade social studies, language arts and science was the most challenging, yet productive time in my teaching career, and quite rewarding. I provided overview of topics such as Ancient Egypt or China and the students created questions, gathered materials, designed products and assessments and performed for authentic audiences. I was also able to have student-led parent conferences, which were a joy to watch.

I love the quote from CityWorks, “You can't learn to be good at something you've never experienced” (p. 133) and schools are good places to learn real democratic principles. I would whole heartily agree – and this should also be the basis of our teacher training. However, as it later states, “Until we understand what it takes to nourish the successful innovations and their offspring, we will always be starting over from scratch” (p. 147). This, I think, is one of the major take-aways from this book. Good things are happening in schools around the country, however, they are not being published nor sustained. Most people can sprint 100 yards – but it is those who plan, train and have a supportive team that can finish the marathon. This should be our goal!

Apple, M. W., & Beane, J. A. (Eds.) (1995). Democratic Schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Multiculturalism - Whatever that is . . .

At the end of last week's class, the professor said, “We'll be reading about multiculturalism, whatever that means...” which is a true assessment of my experience of this model of curriculum theorizing. As an undergraduate, I had a class in Multiculturalism, which focused on a representational model – make sure all students are represented in the textbooks, choose novels with diverse characters, and allow students to bring their home cultures in to the classroom. However, as the readings for this week show – there is a lot more to it than just an add-on in the curriculum, it is a way of thinking about the world.

One of the more recent theories about race and culture is critical race theory (CRT). Ladson-Billings' (2009) article states that there are three themes to CRT: although laws guide actions, often other factors influence decisions just as much; politics and the law are imperfect; politics and the law serve the interests of those in power; and the law is inherently contradictory as it tries to serve the individual and the society. It is clear that laws, throughout history, have enforced the power for those with power. For example, the Greek definition of citizenship narrowed the definition to male adults of citizens. Immigrants could not be citizens, and by that token, nor could their children. As the US was formed, citizenship was defined by landownership, family holdings, and gender. It denied voting rights to women and non-whites. Thomas Jefferson (1787) feared massive immigrations and stated, “They [emigrants] will infuse into it [government] their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass” (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 8). It seems this fear has become an integral part of American government, as only laws have forced voting rights for non-male/white people and tried to negate the importance of property. However, like Ladson-Billings & Tates (1995) original article on CRT in Education stated, race continues to be a significant factor in inequality in the US and societal relationships continue to be based on property rights – and both shape how schooling and education happens. Most of school funding still comes from property taxes – which is inherently unequal. It seems a no-brainer to understand that well-funded schools tend to have more materials, higher paid teachers (which tend to be better and are retained longer), and higher achieving students. Understanding the effects of race means looking systemically at not just schools, but neighborhoods and politics – which is the point of CRT.

Geneva Gay (2004) returns to the school to look at the importance of multicultural education. She supports curriculum development that not only equitably represents the diversity of American society but is also presented in a relevant manner to students – not just as an add-on or token, but as an integral part of teaching and learning. I find that my student teachers are very good at representing diverse voices, but struggle much more with making content relevant. Most come from solidly middle-class white backgrounds and they succeeded with traditional methods of teaching. Pushing them to think beyond their own experiences is tough, and they tend to default to the discourse of “it is the kid's responsibility to be motivated and ready to learn” or to the discourse of dumbing-down the content. As I have mentioned before, there are not a lot of positive models of culturally relevant pedagogy around here.

I agree that school climate is a major factor in a child's successful journey through the system. When students are bullied and harassed, for whatever reason (race, sex, religion, sexual orientation) the physical and mental energy that should go to learning is rallied to protect themselves. Our school system, with the implicit assumptions that go with the factory model of teaching, doesn't recognize or give time and space to the affective component of learning. Bullying is usually dealt with using a zero-tolerance punishment model, rather than looking at the root causes. Like any other band-aid on a deep wound, it will still bleed through.


Gay, G. (2004). The importance of multicultural education. Educational Leadership, 61(4), 30-35.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). Race still matters: Critical race theory in education. In Apple, M.W., Au, W. & Gandin, L.A. (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of critical education. New York: Routledge.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Schools, Tools and Other Such Things

Tyack (1974) shows that the one, best system, as founded by the social engineers for education in the mid to late 1800s was the factory model, in which education became a function, not a cause. The function was to create modern workers for an industrialized society. The self-sufficient household and village was becoming an interdependent, specialized municipality. The larger, more crowded cities demanded regulatory institutions, such as police, health service, and education. Educational leaders used data (such as standardized tests) to promote the creation of bureaucracies to regulate and assess schools, based on efficiency references from the military, factory, and railroad. This lead to the creation and use of textbooks, grade levels, and multiple forms of data collection, including attendance and test scores. The purpose of education became only marginally about knowledge acquisition. Instead, it was used to teach the control of body, promote competition, enforce order/discipline, train workers, and impose a common culture in a diverse population.

In general, teachers are slow adopters of new technology, unless the technology improves a specific, teacher identified problem and the technology is flexible, versatile and portable and supports teacher authority. However,Cuban (1986) states, there are many other reasons given for the slow adoption of technology (specifically of radio, TV and film) such as: the lack of accessibility and reliability of the technology: authoritative mandates to use the technology, often by non-educators; the conflicting demands of the teaching environment; and a traditional culture of teaching that is reinforced by experience. Teachers who willingly adopt new technologies tend to do it not because of the technology itself, but because they may have non-traditional philosophies of education, use the technology to solve a specific problem, or have different expectations of the educational process. After looking at the failure to adopt radio, TV, and film technologies, Cuban moves on to questioning the implementation of computers in schools. He posits that more fundamental questions need to be asked when implementing a technology into schools such as: What is the nature of teaching and learning? What is the purpose of teaching and learning? How do people learn and teachers teach? Without asking these questions, the question of how or why a technology is or is not adopted in schools is very one-dimensional. As, Latour seems to indicate, we can not study people without studying the interactions of humans and non-humans.

Although schools tends to be an individual task, we need to take a broader view of how the school impacts and reflects the larger society. Dewey (1900)`confirms Tyack's later conclusion that schools at the turn of the century had reflected the industrialization of America. Dewey traces the education of the home/farm/village, which tended to be cooperative, necessary, and intrinsically motivating to the urban schools of competition, inauthentic subjects, and extrinsic motivation. Even the introduction of manual training in schools, which mimics home education, according to Dewey, shows that the “real” education has been supplanted by schooling. Dewey then describes his ideal school based on the study and investigation of occupations, which supports an integration of history, science and social understanding in an authentic and constructivist manner.

Since the theme of these readings is “School as a Tool” I read each of the authors with that in mind. Since no single tool can do everything for everyone, and is dependent on context and purpose, these authors try to define or explain how school can be a tool to achieve certain purposes. The purpose of the tool influences the design of the tool, but the design of the tool also influences the use of the tool. Since the tool is in constant use, it would be difficult to radically change it (as in, a moving part is hard to fix). Therefore, the current (traditional) forms of schooling tend to be the dominant method, rather than a radical transformation like Dewey envisioned or the adoption of new technology (and resultant revolution), as Cuban describes.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, J. (1900). The school and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tyack, DB (1974). The one best system. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Cognition and Tool Use

“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.” – Emo Philips

In tracing the development of the modern mind, Donald and Shaffer/Kaput highlight the major cognitive transformations which allowed for new ways of remembering, retrieving and ultimately, defining human culture. What makes humans unique from animals is the ability to represent ideas through symbols or other representations. These symbols can be creatively designed, voluntarily retrieved and, taught, often through imitation. The whole body can be used to represent an idea or event, either remembered or created. In addition, human ability to speak allows for faster and more efficient transference of information, but isn't the only form of communication available. This allowed for things like tool making and expression of the past to be taught, which included the need to remember. However, this, in turn, created more complexity in social life, as longer memory was needed to coordinate daily and communal life. Therefore external memory forms were needed, such as graphic representations and text. This then forced the human brain to develop more abstract ways of thinking, remembering, and recalling information. However, Shaffer/Kaput argue further that the computer allows for much deeper cognition, as it performs lower level processing (so the person doesn't have to), which allows the person to focus more on the representation of thinking, not just the process of thinking.

Donald states, “This suggests that high levels of literacy skill may entail considerable costs, as indeed has been suggested by literature comparing the cognitive competences of oral cultures with those of literate. Oral memory and visual imagery are often listed among the skills that may have been traded off against literacy.” (p.746) My question – Is this truly a cognitive difference or is it a socially created difference? In other words – nature vs nurture?

I also find it a little ironic that Donald uses the metaphor of the human brain as a computational machine with external memory and processing capabilities, whereas Turkle is playing down the computational and processing capabilities of the computer in order to highlight the human-like abilities of simulation and interaction within computer.

Which leads to Turkle's discussion of identity in the age of the internet. She believes that the computer has gone beyond just being a tool or mirror of humans, but rather a place people go to create new identities and communities. As this is happening, the space between “real” life and virtual life is slowly diminishing. Many Multi-User Domains(MUD) users believe their virtual lives are as real and important as their “real” lives. From the earliest paper and dice games like Dungeons and Dragons, MUD allow people to be more than players; they become authors, who can create an identical persona or wildly different one. And, with anonymity, they can try out several different identities. “Windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system” (p. 14). These identities are formed by choice and my the identity inflicted on the user by the environment and other users – which makes it fluid and constantly changing. At times, it is difficult to see the difference between a person created character or a machine created character. The form and function of the computer has and is changing rapidly, and with it, brings a sense of “instability of meanings and the lack of universal and knowable truths” (p. 18)

At one time, people with multiple personalities were consider to be possessed my demons or mentally ill. However, Turkle sites that some MUD users who have multiple characters, often with extremely different personalities and goals. Is this self-medication of sorts for people who feel splintered by modern life? Or, does acting out these lives make if more difficult to accept “real” life? Will it become the norm to have a real life and multiple cyberlives? And those who choose not to partake, will they be the ones considered mentally ill?

“Mathematics is not about calculations . . . [it] is about understanding a problem, representing it in an external processing system and being able to use the information produced . . . in a meaningful way.” (Shaffer/Kaput, p. 111). For as much as computers are accepted at home, I am still amazed at the arguments and recriminations for using calculators in the math classroom and audio books in English. How can we help people see that this isn't just taking shortcuts, but just the tools that they are, which allow students to think more deeply about topics, rather than focus on basic skills?

Donald, M., (1993). Precis of Origins of the Modern Mind with multiple reviews and author's response. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16:4, pp. 737-91
Shaffer, D., & Kaput, J. (1999). Mathematics and virtual culture: An evolutionary perspective on technology and mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 37, 97–119.
Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster

Monday, October 05, 2009

Intersection of Tools and Culture

Pea (2004 ) believes that intelligence is not an individual, solitary thing – though in our modern society, we try to measure it as such. Instead, proposes Pea, intelligence/knowledge is multiple and distributed across people and environments. In using intelligence, humans have desires (4 types), in which they create and use tools to achieve these desires. Each tool has accordances – that is the “perceives and actual properties of the ting, primarily those functional properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used”(p. 51). The tools can also be said to be “intelligent” itself, as the tool defines its purpose and the task. But, as tools become accepted, the intelligence within is less evident. Tools can amplify human intelligence, but Pea posits that they are more reorganizers of mental functioning – that people change what they do, not just how they do it. However, education seems to be unaware of this, and continues to adopt technologies without considering the trade-offs, or does not adopt the tool, even though it is part of everyday life.

Postman (1993) has a lot to say, but it basically boils down to this – all technologies have both blessings and burdens. Too often, people either fully embrace or fully reject a technology. In doing so, the complex relationship of the cultural, social and systematic change borne from the technology is not fully examined.

Illich (1973) proposes a new society – one that he names a convivial society, in which the tools people use allow for autonomy and creative interactions between people and their environments. In doing so, three values would be protected; survival, justice, and self-defined work. In our current society, too often, people become slaves to the tools – whether it is an institution (like school) or a machine (like an airplane). In our modern society, the use of industrial tools has spawned a world-wide homogenization of culture, in which people are trying to fit in. (ie – schools look about the same, factories look about the same). “A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others” (p.21). He goes on to define tools as “ all rationally designed devices, by they artifacts or rules, codes or operators, and to distinguish all these planned and engineered instrumentalities from other things such as basic food or implements, which in a given culture are not deemed to be subject to rationalization” (p. 22). He believes that hand tools, those that adapt a person's metabolic energy to a specific tacks, tend to be more convivial, as almost anyone can use for his/her own purposes, as compared to power tools, which often subsume the users to a mere operator. However, manipulative tools (those in which create gaps between have/have not) can not be fully abolished, instead, a balance between manipulative and empowering tools is necessary. Which leads to the definition of work (satisfying, creative and independent), labor (doing for the benefit of a master/exploitive), operative ( earned through consumption and privileged experience). In modern society, technological progress tends to widen the gap between rich and poor. Often the “progress” is only for individual gain, not societal good. And, in doing so, deprives the majority of further independence, self-worth, and efficacy.

Johnson (1988) argues that as we delegate more of human activity to tools/technology, the general public tends to humanize the technologies and apply human characteristics to them. If a person's perception is their reality, then non-human technologies, designated as human, must be an important factor in society, and by extension, in sociology.

It seems to me that Illich (1973) is suggesting that specialized knowledge has little place in his convivial society, as we should be able to heal ourselves etc. I struggle to imagine his ideal convivial society in the context of our modern technologies and societal demands – would it even be possible? Which, is maybe his point – we would have to have a radical revolution in order for this to happen. I couldn't help but think of Stephan King's The Stand while reading. When 75% of the world's population dies, how do the survivors re-engineer society when many of the specialists are dead? Well, new people become specialists, but with more of a focus of committees. (That on the “good” side – the bad side is just a dictator.) Postman's (1993) predictions are scarily accurate in many cases. What frustrates me is that he warns, but doesn't have alternatives. Though, Illich's alternative seems unrealistic, at least he has a vision. Pea (2004) begins to indicate the implications of a new definition of intelligence on education.


Illich, I. (1973). Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper and Row.
Johnson, J (aka Latour, B.) (1988). Mixing humans and nonhumans together: the sociology of
a door-closer. Social Problems, Vol. 35 No.3, pp.298-310.
Pea, R. D. (2004) Practices of distributed intelligences and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions. (pp. 88-110).
Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. NewYork: Vintage Books.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction ~ Ralph Tyler

I was very sad while reading this book. It would seem that if Tyler's assertions were basic principles then most people should know them – especially as it is 60 years later and should be well developed. But, it seems, his thoughts have been buried with other great ideas like the library at Alexandria.

When I first began teaching, I was handed a curriculum guide that achieved its effects like “water dripping upon a stone” (p. 83) wearing away at the children. The guide was clearly designed by “experts” - mostly, the textbooks available and the former teachers. Although the objectives were clear, it was based strictly on knowledge and skill, not developing “modes of thinking or critical interpretation, emotional reaction, interests and the like” (p. 29). It was so detailed that it indicated the number of days to spend on each unit. With all the fragmented lessoning (it wasn't learning) going on, it seemed, as Tyler also stated, “Many educational programs do not have clearly defined purposes” (p.3). I don't think I've ever taught in a school that did have a clearly defined purpose. Of course, they all had philosophy statements and curriculum guides, but what actually happened in the classrooms was frequently inconsistent and incongruent.

If education is, as Tyler states, “a process of changing behavior patterns . . . includ[ing] thinking and feeling as well as overt action” (p. 5-6) then an understanding of the students, the standard, the expectations of society etc. would be necessary. However, I am a little uncomfortable with this definition, because it would seem to indicate indoctrination, which, if the uproar over Obama's education speech to students is any indication, is a poor choice of words. But, looking at his treatment of the word “need” in education, I relaxed a bit. In the first definition, it means taking the information about a learner and comparing it to a standard with the difference being the space for educational need. The second definition has a more psychological slant – that being that all people have physical, social and integrative needs and education should help satisfy and balance these needs. I believe I will have to ponder this a while longer, as I, myself, do not have a ready definition for “education”.

I have been in two schools in which the philosophy and mission statements were “updated” yet neither school really addressed defining what they believed was the purpose of education. Tyler mentions the various tensions that can be raised between the “essentialists” and “progressives”, the subject area specialist and the child-centered teacher etc. I think this tension exists in every school, but there is very little opportunity to address the tension and build a shared vision of the school's purpose and philosophy. At the beginning of the year, too many schools rush teachers through multiple in-services on multiple topics, without considering this basic question – what is our purpose.

One of the most significant influences on my teaching was when I came to understand, as Tyler states, “a smaller number of consistent highly important objectives need to be selected” (p.33). I attended Harvard's Project Zero one summer and was introduced to the idea of Thoroughline, or more commonly called, Essential Questions. This made me seriously consider the design of my own curriculum – taking in account the school's mandates, my own professional knowledge, the various needs of the students, and a need to balance preparing students for was is and what will be. When I work with student teachers, this is one of the most complicated areas to explain. Tyler suggests that objectives can be attained from at least five areas of information, with multiple forms of data within each area. To be able to synthesize all that information and create “objectives in a form to be helpful in selecting learning experiences and in guiding teaching” (p. 43) is a major undertaking. One of my former colleagues, who just began her tenth year of teaching stated incredulously, “It seems that my teaching is smooth and fluid – what am I doing differently this year?” I replied, “Practice and experience. Now, go teach that to novice teachers!”

Tyler, R. (1951) Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Globalization, Global Citizenship, and International Schools

Globalization is not new – though the current form is probably the most well-documented and researched. Tilly (2004) talks about the three forms of globalization – migration of population; spread of ideas, techniques and forms of organization; and increased coordination of activities at a world scale. Throughout history, people have always felt the “grass was greener” somewhere else, from the first humans who left Africa to find more verdant lands to the post-WWII flight from Eastern Europe to escape crushing memories and destruction. Each time, the immigrants brought with them their traditions, culture and way of life and, even when pressured to conform, the two (or more) cultures melded – or as Bhabha (1994) would say, created hybridization. Throughout the middle ages, kingdoms and fiefdoms fought each other and gained power through mutual alliances. In Cleopatra's time, she formed an alliance with Julius Caesar in order to promote Egypt's place in the Roman Empire. Within the last 60 years, the United States has become a world power - meaning that the ideas, fads, fashions, commerce and businesses of the US were replicated, extended, and adopted by other people and countries.

As a backlash to the “Americanization” of the world, new forms of organization are becoming the ruling class of the world – World Bank, European Union, and the World Trade Organization,and the International Monetary Fund. The increased coordination of activities at a world scale is what is new with this current incarnation of globalization. In the past, the conqueror would determine how activities were organized with in the empire – and generally the conquered would be forced to adopt most of the conqueror's ways. The Roman Empire built extensive roads in order to better administrate their lands. The Islamic Empire was united through religion. The British Empire dominated through colonization and conversion. However, today, the coordination is through economic means, and is not confined to a single country or government. Multi-national companies and international cooperatives are determining the day-to-day activities of a major chunk of the world. According to Newsweek, the top ten global companies are Wal-Mart Stores,Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Toyota Motor, Chevron, ING Group, Total, General Motors, and ConocoPhillips. The world power is whoever controls “power” - most of the top 10 companies control gas and oil. Although OPEC still controls the land where most oil is found, these international companies are improving technologies to get more oil from other fields and produce alternative forms of energy. On a more personal level, Appiah (2008) believes that globalization is not only having access to knowledge of the lives and ways of other people, but also, having the power to affect other people.

McKenzie (2004) gives a checklist for a global citizen, which includes: global appreciation, supports sustainable living and development, being epistemologically nomadic, multilingual, multicultural, being prepared to stand up for others who are very different or far away, be empathetic, and radically challenge those ideas that seem unquestionable or inevitable.

Globalization and Education

World culture theory, as developed by John Meyer, Francisco Ramirez, John Boli and colleagues, argues that the culture of schooling is converging toward a single global model, based on evidence of broad similarities among schooling systems across nations, including common ideals, institutional forms and practices, organizational features, curricula and instructional methods. For many American international schools, much of the unwritten curriculum is an enculturation of American values and educational priorities. The school has to educate both parents and students how to “do school” the American way, which includes projects, group work, disagreeing with the teacher and others and supporting opinion. Often schools give workshops and handouts about homework, reading practices and bullying. By doing this, the school feels it is preparing students to fit into American universities and international universities. But, is that creating global citizens? In actuality, like the Romans did as they conquered other peoples, the schools are creating citizens that could fit into American society. And yet, the local community and culture, along with the tertiary school culture (made up of locals, third country nationals, and Americans), had a strong influence on how American education is interpreted in that context. As Lee and LiPuma (2002) said, “these interpretive communities determine lines of interpretation, found institutions, and set boundaries based principally on their own internal dynamic.”

Bauman (1998) cites Dunlap's principle of the company belonging to the shareholders, not the workers or locality. This is true in a lot of schools, yet more evident in American international schools – especially in the schools where the student population is overwhelmingly foreign as opposed to local. Generally, the school board is elected of and by the parents. This board sets policy, approves hiring, budget etc. Often, the parents will only be in-country for 2-5 years, so their agendas are short term - “what's best for my kid.” It is difficult to get long-term programs and ideas to move forward, because the student body and faculty turn over every 2-5 years. There can be a sense of “freedom from the duty to contribute to daily life and the perpetuation of the community”(p. 9) along with “no need to engage, if avoidance will do.” (p.11) Often American or third country national students will not become involved in local sports or hang out with neighborhood kids because the students knew they would move away eventually. With a high turnover rate for foreign hire teachers, many outreach programs that are started, such as visits to a local orphanage and offering professional development to local teachers, ended as soon as sponsoring teacher leaves.

Within a country, an international school often has unique ties to the local government. Often, the government has to sanction the formation of an international school, which for developing countries, means creating and passing new laws. Implicitly, this means the ruling body agrees with the fundamentals of having foreigners educating the youth in the country. Which, conversely, indicates that the local educational system could not handle the demands of the foreigners in the local schools. By creating separate schools, the nomadic foreigners are insulated from the context of local society, which does, (in many cases) create resentment. In some schools, students are bussed directly to the school, with only a few students, who speak the local language, taking public buses. However, these students may cover up or take off their uniforms because they would be harassed by local students about being “Preppies” or the rich kids who go to the school that anyone can buy their way into. The American international schools are generally better funded, are able to import supplies and materials easily, sometimes get special treatment from the government (taxes, educational requirements etc), can hire more educated faculty and the students come from a higher socioeconomic class than the local population.

To combat this resentment and to create “globally aware citizens,” many American international school require community service projects for the students, which, in theory, gives back to the local community. However, at times, it creates a greater sense of superiority in students and faculty, rather than empathy. As Bauman (1998) says, “Globalization divides as much as it unites; it divides as it unites.” (p. 2) When shopping for gifts for the poorer local kids, some students would buy inferior gifts than if buying for their own friends, assuming that since the local kids had little, any gift would be appreciated.

But what does it mean to educate for global citizenship? Appiah (2008) states that there are three ideals for global citizenship: 1) No single world government 2) Caring for the fate of all fellow citizens 3) Engagement in real conversation between people. He looks back to the Greek sense of education which was to shape the citizen for their common, communal life. However, now, that community is not just the polis, or city/local area. It has expanded to include a global common life – the cosmos. So, schools should be educating for cosmopolitanism – “universality plus difference” (p. 92) which recognizes the fallibility of knowledge and the right for each person to live their own life, as long as that way only effects his/her own fate, even if someone else thinks that way is wrong. Which means, that as a global citizen, a person should spend more time listening and learning from other people, rather than imposing their own will or pointing out their differences. Becoming a global citizen, in Ebbeck's view (2008), should be more about gaining a future-oriented perspective, one that envisions not only a personal future, but a world future with less violence and more tolerance, which is sometimes called a “peace curriculum.” Mckenzie (2004) echoes Ebbeck's concern about the extreme violence in the world, but he believes that the primary purpose of schools should be builders of community – one that cooperates, not confronts; builds interdependence, teamwork and patience. And, through the strength of the school's community, promote community outside the school grounds.

Examples of Global Citizenship Education

Often, the job of teaching “global citizenship” is put on the social studies teachers and curriculum, rather than being infused into the core beliefs of the school. However, even within that context, there are obstacles to effective global citizenship pedagogy. First, there is no single definition of global citizenship education. It is often subsumed under other frameworks, such as multicultural education or even economic education. Even when it is placed within citizenship education, there are significant differences in the requirements of local verse global citizenship. Finally, many people fear that a focus on global citizenship undermines local citizenship (Rapaport, 2008).

Global Learning is a specific pedagogical approach in which learners of different cultures use technologies to improve their global perspective through contact and cooperation with people of other cultures (Gibson, Rimmington, & Landwehr-Brown, 2008). In this model, the instructor creates a set of necessary conditions: 1) Cultural contrasts between participants (ideally in different countries) 2) Modern communication technologies such as Internet and web-based communication applications 3) Substantive and authentic goal 4) Designed to require teamwork. Once these conditions are met, the learners must use a range of attributes/dispositions and processes/skills which may need to be explicitly taught. By engaging with others, especially with those who may be different, on a project with a mutual goal, learners come to understand how interconnected and interdependent the world is, in spite of cultural diversity. However, more influential, the authors found, was the fact that the instructor also becomes more globally conscious through the contacts made in the design of the project.

In Singapore, Lim (2008) documents a unique fusing of content area knowledge and multi-user virtual environments to create a role playing game in which the player must work together with other players, to solve social, ecological and cultural problems reminiscent of current problems. Through “quests” players must define the problem, research possible solutions using examples from other cultures, and design a policy paper describing their solution. The underlying design of the game supports student agency, tolerance and diversity, while at the same time, removing the barriers between school and non-school knowledges. In replicating the global issues currently being faced, and engaging the students as citizens, they realistically practiced the skills needed for responsible adult global citizenship.


Appiah, K. (2008, April). Education for global citizenship. Yearbook of the national society for the study of education. 107(1), pp. 83-99.
Bhabha, H. (1994). The location of culture. New York: Routledge.
Bauman, Z. (1998). Globalization: The human consequences. Cambridge, Polity.
Ebbeck, M. (2006). The challenges of global citizenship: Some issues for policy and practice in early childhood education. Childhood Education, 82(6). p. 353-357.
Gibson, K.L., Rimmington, G.M., & Landwehr-Brown, M. (2008). Developing global awareness and responsible world citizenship with global learning. Roeper Review, 30(1). p. 11-23.
Lee, B. & LiPuma, E. (2002) Cultures of circulation: The imaginations of modernity. Public Culture 14(1): 191-213.
Lim, C. P., (2007). Global citizenship education, school curriculum and games: Learning mathematics, English and science as a global citizen. Computers & Education, 51. p.1073–1093.
McKenzie, M. (2004). Sense of community and the emerging global citizen. Independent School, 63 (3), p. 10-16
Newsweek. (2008, July 21). Global 500. Fortune magazine. Retrieved December 26, 2008 from
Rapoport, A. (2008). A forgotten concept: Global citizenship education and state social studies standards. Journal of Social Studies Research 33(1), p. 75-93.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Radical Possibilities - Jean Anyon

You know when you have a small shard of fiberglass in your finger and it only hurts when you move it a certain way – but then you keep moving it to see where it is and then it really hurts? That's how I felt reading this book. Many of the issues Jean Anyon (2005) brings up have been issues I've railed about before, but when looking at the complexities of bureaucracy, it always seemed impossible to change – poverty, transportation, incarceration etc. However, what I really appreciated in Anyon was she also gives hope – through the analysis of past social movements and the expectation of future collaboration, there seems to be, as she titles it – possibilities!

For most of my teenage years, I remember always hearing about the food shortages in Africa. Then as an adult, I found out that it wasn't so much a lack of food, but a lack of secure, transparent distribution of food, water and supplies that caused such terrible famine. This was caused, in many cases, by the countries' own governments, though sometimes by civil war. It was so frustrating to know that food etc. was available yet wasting away or resold for profit, rather than benefiting the people it was intended for. Currently, the food crisis has been prompted by large corporate farms and the desire for cash crops over food production. Again, governmental policy has allowed this to happen. So, why talk about food as compared to this book? Well, it seems to parallel a lot of what Anyon talks about – few problems are like waffles, with neat little squares, cordoned off from one another. Most problems are like a bowl of spaghetti – intertwined and messy.

Communism seems the way to go – to simplify all the problems of Western society. With a democratic, classless, stateless society with common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general, no religious fervor to divide people and no recognition of race to segregate. But wait, hasn't that been tried and failed? Why? “Communism . . . these alternate beliefs systems [to capitalism] flew in the face of human nature. Of even common sense. Anyone who has ever tried to share pizza with roommates knows that Communism cannot ever work. If Lenin and Marx had just shared an apartment, perhaps a hundred million lives might have been spared and put to productive use...” (Suarez, 2009, p. 289). So, if a truly classless society isn't a reality, what is?

In the 1993 movie Dave, Kevin Kline plays an ordinary man, Dave, who looks a lot like the American president. When the president has a stroke, Dave is asked to fill in for the president for a few days in order for the Chief of Staff to continue to hold power. However, this ordinary man begins to make changes, which drastically improve the lives of ordinary people, rather than just the rich. He diplomatically, forces the various departments to balance the budget while refunding public service projects and pushes through an employment program. However, the corrupt actions of the real president are revealed, and Dave, takes the blame stating:

“And while we're setting the record straight, I'd also like to apologize to the American people. I forgot that I was hired to do a job for you and that it was just a temp job at that. I forgot that I had two hundred and fifty million people who were paying me to make their lives a little better and I didn't live up to my part of the bargain. See, there are certain things you should expect from a President. I ought to care more about you than I do about me... I ought to care more about what's right than I do about what's popular...I ought to be willing to give this whole thing up for something I believe in...”

This, I think, gets to the core of why Communism and social reform has had a difficult time making positive changes for the whole of society. Too many people, including me, are more concerned about the immediate welfare of themselves and their own family, to look beyond and see the need to extend their caring to others. Anyon gives numerous statistics of how the wealthy have continued to protect their wealth, while the poor have continued to get poorer.

I know there is a mythology of the good ol' days, yet there was tremendous value in the need to depend on neighbors to share their thrashing machine, combine or other equipment. Neighbors and towns had to trust and work together to survive. Now, each household buys its own snowblower or lawnmower because no one trusts others to treat the equipment right or bring it back. I think Anyon (2005) has a good point that any social movement must start locally, with building connections and trust between the people involved before it can make connections to larger organizations. And this trust and connection building takes time and effort. In our mobile world of constant change, it is difficult to envision the future and commit to a plan.

How can teachers create a new social order? Although I totally agree that Anyon's multi-pronged approach is the only way to radically alter the way schooling and society runs, I think teachers can begin with building trusting, caring, and, dare I say, loving, relationships with their students and foster the same type of relationships between students, staff, parents and the local community. As Jackie DeShannon sang in 1968:

Think of your fellow man
Lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart
You see it's getting late, so please don't hesitate
Put a little love in your heart
And the world...
Will be a better place
And the world will be a better place for you...
And me

Anyon, Jean. (2005). Radical possibilities: Public policy, urban education, and a new social movement. New York: Routledge.

DeShannon, J., Holiday, J. & Myers, R. (1968). Put a little love in your heart. Put a Little Love in Your Heart. MCA Records.

Reitman, I. (Director). (1993). Dave. [Motion Picture].Warner Bros. Pictures.

Suarez, D. (2009). Daemon. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Should schools support class mobility? Can there be a classless society?

The first fact Bourdieu (1986) claims is that people's cultural practices are linked to, first, their level of education and secondarily, to their social origin. As Dr. Seuss (1978) said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” So, in theory, the more education a person has, the more aware he/she will be about what legitimate culture is, how to legitimately respond to it, and how to find/get it. However, if Bourdieu is correct, a person's social origin will also influence their desire for the knowledge of or attitude toward legitimate culture. So, a working class person, by virtue of their habitus will reject legitimate culture and a middle class person will either revere it or pretend they know more then they actually do (pretentiousness).

In my reading, I get the feeling that Bourdieu thinks that working class rejects legitimate culture, because they assume they will never be accepted into the upper/dominant class, so why bother. The middle class is conflicted – they want to be accepted, but don't have the money to do it. Assuming that access to upper class/dominant class, is the goal of people's lives (which I'm not sure about, but seems to be), then there should be a way to climb the cultural/social/economic ladder. (I find it difficult to truly separate the three.)

This being the case, what is the role of school? If the school teaches legitimate culture (which it mostly does), it would be in an attempt to give access to legitimate culture through education, for those who don't come with the legitimate cultural capital. However, in doing so, the school illegitimates the student's cultural experience. (Would this be cultural debt?) Now, according to Bourdieu, a student from a working class background may very well reject legitimate culture – having a taste for necessity rather than luxury. So, should the school be working more to “develop a taste” for legitimate culture and then the knowledge – and in doing so, does the student have to reject their family's taste? To continue, it would seem that the middle class would embrace this form of education, because they have the aspiration to become upper class. Since there is already a reverence or pretentiousness for legitimate culture, the education should be fairly easy. As for the upper class – well, they attend the private upper class school which is teaching legitimate culture anyway. Overall, this does seem to explain the current state of schooling.

So, what is the alternative? Should schools legitimize other forms of knowledge - which is a phrase I hear often, but don't exactly understand what it means. If, for example, mariachi music is a cultural practice in most of the students' backgrounds, should this become part of the school's curriculum? If so, what does it leave out? If students are using mariachi music to learn other things, ie parts of speech, it is really legitimizing the cultural practice? If learning all about mariachi music – the people, history etc. leaves out learning about classical music, a legitimate cultural practice, is it a service or disservice to the students? Can knowledge of mariachi help them succeed?

I can think of a few examples of something similar being enacted in schools. The ebonics debate in schools – the idea that teachers should use and support the use of African-American vernacular English, (AAVE). Some people believe it is the home language of students, and that teacher knowledge and use supports their learning of standard English. Which, in a similar debate, also supports Spanish bilingual education. However, the opposition believes that by supporting the use of non-standard English in the school, the students will not become proficient in standard English, which will limit their access to other opportunities. When I taught in Brazil, at an international school, the majority of students were Portuguese speakers. At the middle and high school level, we were constantly asking them to use English in the classroom because it was easier for them to converse in Portuguese, understandably. However, as a consequence, by not using and struggling with the English academic language, they did not become proficient with it, and their Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores were low, which limited their opportunities to apply for prestigious colleges and universities. In trying to “force” them to speak English, rather than valuing their home language, I've been accused of being a colonial power – which has been applied to my broader choice of working within international school settings.

Is it possible to have a classless society? Is is possible to have a classless school in a classist society? Since our society is formed around notions of class and learning how to maneuver (through education) in a higher class than which one was born in allows a person to earn more power, prestige and money – is education, which supports a white, middle class mentality a bad thing? Should schools be shooting for teaching upper class mentality?

In looking at science fiction and fantasy stories, the only way to achieve classlessness is to take things away from people. In “"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, people are made to look and perform at the lowest possible level by attaching “handicaps” to limit their physical appearance or abilities. Athletic people receive heavy weights, beautiful people wear ugly masks, smart people receive electric shocks to interrupt their thinking. Yet, still, there is a rule class of the people who determine the “handicaps.” In The Giver by Lois Lowry, people are assigned jobs, marriage partners, children and housing by a central authority. They are taught to be polite and unquestioning and even have the ability to see color taken way – all in the name of sameness. In the The Twilight Zone episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (1964) when people reach adulthood, they are encouraged /pressured into choose a new body form from the dozen or so approved, beautiful bodies, which means no one is more beautiful or ugly than another. In Wall-E, all of the “work” of daily life is taken away from humans and given to robots – even walking. As a result, humans become fat, lazy and ignorant. All of these images of a classless society are pretty grim.

So, what is the alternative? If there is no working class, how will “dirty” jobs get done? Without monetary and prestige awards, who will choose to devote themselves to long hours of study and practice to become a doctor?


Bourdieu, P. (1986). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Seuss, (1978). I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! Random House Children's Books.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hollywood's View of Teachers: Teachers (1984)

Comedy has to be based on truth.  You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end. ~ Sid Caesar

Like any good comedy, the humor in the movie Teachers (Russo & Hiller, 1984) is based on some truth, with some exaggeration. The stereotypical portraits of teacher-types - the lackadaisical, the authoritarian, the crazy (literally and figurative), and the incompetent – can be seen in most large schools, which is what makes them so funny. Yet, the message of the film, that in an urban school, education is reduced to “ get as many through with what we've got,” is quite serious.

Although slightly exaggerated, I've met teachers who could be the origin of the movie's stereotypical teachers. Mr. Stiles, also known as Ditto because of the massive amounts of worksheets he copies, has a clockwork-like atmosphere in which the students are trained to preform to the bell, without teacher interference. In my first year of teaching, the social studies teacher, who had been teaching for twenty years, made a point to tell me that he had made enough purple ditto copies to last until he retired. It seems he didn't like the new-fangled xerox machines and planned ahead. He showed me his lesson plan book, which was planned out from the first day of school and looked remarkably like the year before. “Students look forward to this unit every year,” he explained when showing me the geography unit based on planning a family trip. Even though the students generally liked him, there was little incorporation of student interest and experience and he was on a strict schedule – snow days were a great interference. This is the type of teacher who values the content over the students, and probably looks at teaching as just a job, not a professional calling. Ayers (2004) believes that teaching is an ethical practice. Ditto's version of the classroom removes any ethical decision – just a factory model of input/output. Many students do well in this classroom because it is predictable and routine, yet, there is little room for creativity and critical thinking. Lamentably, this is what many schools apply to student populations who are considered at-risk. Kylene Beers, a teacher and current president of the National Council of Teachers of English, reported on one urban school she visited. The principal reminded teachers and students that they were supposed to stay in their seats and do their work:

  • He stared at me and, with no hint of a smile, not even a grin, explained, “Some kids—those out there heading to class right this minute so they aren’t late” he said, nodding toward the bus lot now filled with kids streaming into school, “learn best with rules. Rules and structure. We give it to them.” And then he walked away. He didn’t say it unkindly, that comment about “those” kids. With reflection, I realized he said it with sincerity, perhaps concern, and certainly with conviction. Somehow along the way, he had concluded that those kids, those kids whose lives are lived in the gaps—the poverty gap, the health care gap, the nutrition gap, to name but a few. . . those kids will do better if we just require that they stay in their seats. Those kids just need some structure. And we do them a service, a good service, by giving it to them.(Foster & Nosol, 2008, p. x)
When most children play school, this is the image they strive for and the quiet, dutiful stuffed-animals fulfill the role of passive students happily. However, in the twenty-first century, real students are messy bodies of hopes, fears and insecurities with great potential that shouldn't be limited by drill-&-kill activities. Eventually, Ditto has a heart-attack and each class period runs like a well-oiled machine. His body is not discovered until the end of the day. If only the rosy-image of the silent classroom could die as easily.

Returning to the film, Carl Rosenberg is a well-meaning but inept teacher who can't control his classroom and has his desk stolen as a joke. Unfortunately, I've had and met too many teachers who fit this description. My fourth grade teacher would regularly give us “the talk” which was a guilt-trip wrapped in her tears and would inspire good behavior for a few hours. In eighth grade, my math teacher had a short-temper and it became a class challenge to make her walk out on the class. As a teacher, I heard a music teacher shout, “Shut up!” at the top of his lungs frequently to attempt to get students' attention, which was quite disruptive to me since my classroom was right next door. This type of teacher is also immortalized in the children's book, Miss Nelson Is Missing! in which the nice teacher, Miss Nelson, resorts to becoming Miss Viola Swamp, a mean and ugly teacher, in order to get the children to behave (Allard, 1985). The basic message to the movie-goer, the student in the classroom and the reader is that nice teachers can't control a classroom. The myth of “don't smile until Christmas” has been repeated to many new teachers since before my aunt began her teaching career in the early 1940s. How terribly disheartening for the prospective teacher!

In the movie, the most engaging teacher was Herbert Gower, a mental patient who is mistakenly hired as a substitute. He uses role-playing, costuming and drama to help students “see” history. Unfortunately, he is found out and taken away by men in white suits. Regrettably, I have not personally seen this type of teacher in any school I've been in, but I've used the Teachers' Curriculum Institute's History Alive program, which incorporates many of these ideas. I've asked my students to form a tableau of scenes from history or literature and take the perspective of the person/character they are portraying. Sometimes, I read or see news pieces about teachers like this, usually couched in terms like “outstanding.” I would agree, that getting student attention is an important part of teaching, yet what a teacher can do with it then is the grunt-work of teaching. Anyone can tap dance for five minutes. Activity based learning, for the sake of the theme (teddy bears) or activity (salt dough maps) is meaningless without solid content, critical thinking, and continuous assessment. It is the marathon dancer who wins the prize.

The protagonist of the film, Alex Jurel, is a burnt-out social studies teacher with a idealist past. The system – too many kids, too many problems, too many administrative demands, and too little support – has turned him into a teacher with frequent absences, few lesson plans, and little enthusiasm for his job. The students like him, because he is the most “real” person in the school, and, I would guess, an easy grader. was built for students to find teachers like this – the ones who will give the A without much work. The teachers I've known like this tend to be very personable – bringing their passions (sports, music, movies) into the classroom, but without much thought about content or pedagogy. One social studies teacher I taught with had CNN running all the time in his classroom, claiming “current event” studies. His tests were easy, reading was done in class, there was no homework, and most of the grade was based on class discussion. Students generally liked him, and like in the movie, the students in trouble gravitated toward him when needing help, which also got him into trouble. On the positive side, when school was over, he left it at school – which is something more dedicated teachers could learn from. On the negative side, I've also seen this type of teacher get too friendly with students and become drinking buddies or sexual partners. At the end of the film, Alex Jural finds a cause he thinks is worth fighting for – his job. However, he redefines his role as an advocate for the troubled students.

Early in the film, Alex Jural hangs out with a former teacher, now vice-principal, Roger Rubell. They lament to each other how the kids don't care, the system is overwhelmed and they aren't paid enough. When Jural shows signs of trying to change the system, Rubell says, “Your job is to get them through school and keep them out of trouble.” (Russo & Hiller, 1984) The pessimistic message of the movie is that in an urban school, there are no individuals, no great aspirations, just the basic skills and babysitting. Even though the end of the film is seemingly optimistic, Jural finds inspiration again in teaching, in anticipating the next possible actions, it really isn't. His fiery lecture to the board of education would most likely lead to suspension, then a lengthy mediation, and possible trial – none allowing him to teach. His involvement in taking a minor to an abortion clinic could result in other charges. Ultimately, nothing in the school would change. 

That, I think, is the more subtle message. Urban schools have grown in size and problems, but because of the student population, lack of parent support, and inner-city location, nothing can be done. In the end, it is a fairly depressing conclusion, one that isn't necessarily true. However, the counterpoint doesn't make good cinema.

Allard, H. (1985). Miss Nelson is missing! Sandpiper.
Ayers, W. (2004). Teaching the personal and the political: Essays on hope and justice. Teachers College Press.
Foster, H. & Nosol, M. (2008). America’s unseen kids: Teaching English/Language Arts in today’s forgotten high schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Russo, A. (Producer), & Hiller, A. (Director). (1984). Teachers [Motion picture]. United States: MGM/UA Entertainment Company.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Class, Codes and Control Vol. 3 ~ Basil Bernstein

Whole language vs. Phonics. Teacher-centered vs. Student-centered instruction. Uniforms vs. No dress code. Back to basics vs. Project based instruction. When Counts (1932) proposed the idea that teachers could be the foundation of major social change, he didn't really address the conflicting pedagogical debates that have been major battlegrounds in the last half-century. Teachers are expected to identify themselves within a certain “camp” in these debates, and the real victim are the students, especially those of low socioeconomic status. As Bernstein, says, “Conflicting pedagogies have their origins within the fraction of the middle class and so an unreflecting institutionalizing of either pedagogy will not be to the advantage of the lower working class.” (1975, p. 19) I experienced this at one of my schools, when we attempted to update the curriculum guides. Between six teachers, we couldn't even agree on the basic language of categorizing English/Language Arts instruction, so no progress was made on the revisions. Therefore, the next year, a curriculum coordinator was hired and standards and benchmarks were “borrowed” from other districts and imposed on us and our students. What should have been a congenial, reflective conversation between professionals, turned into a dictate from administration. In the end, very little changed within instruction, as teachers continued to do what they always did, the curriculum guides were made “pretty” for accreditation, and the victims were the students.

Basing his observations in the 1970s in the UK, Bernstein seemed very optimistic when he pronounced that, in his view, schools were moving toward a more integrated type of curriculum in which students and teachers had more control over the type, timing, and form of instruction. However, I disagree, viewing the current movement, both in the US and UK. Sure, in some schools, or some classrooms, this may be happening, but on the whole, with NCLB the US is moving to almost a national, standardized curriculum, and the UK already has it with explicit Key Stages. At one of my schools, we had student teachers from the UK who were stymied by our lack of “curriculum guides” which would spell out what, how and how long to teach subjects. The idea of “lesson planning” was so foreign to them, much less the idea of being able to choose topics, materials, and methodology. When I first began teaching middle school English, the curriculum guide specified what books to use and how many days to spend on each topic – which corresponded to the 180 days allotted (not allowing for assemblies, snow days and other interruptions). My mentor teacher happily handed me the grammar book, vocabulary book (don't write in it, have the students copy out the answers), literature anthology, and spelling book. The goal was to keep the kids in their desks, occupied and under control. When I look at Berstein's model of “Types of involvement in the role of pupil” (1975, p. 44) as applied to teachers, I think I fell into another category. I did not accept the means of the instrumental, nor did I accept the means of the expressive order – but I did accept the ends of both, as was officially stated in the handbook.

Thus, I made it my goal to rebel/reform. I asked for real novels to read and instituted writer's workshop. The school was moving to a more “middle school model” which Bernstein would define as “integrated curricula,” and I guess I was the vanguard. I switched classes with the science teacher for a unit. Spearheaded an interdisciplinary week in which all content areas teachers sat together the plan the curriculum, materials, and activities of the week and all teachers taught something that was not their specialty. The students, previously in tracked classes, were assembled into heterogeneous small groups to complete research of their own choosing. Although I think I made in-roads in changing the “that's the way we've always done it” mindset, I was not there long enough to see it to its full fruition.

Unfortunately, as I am supervising student teachers, I seem to see more of the traditional, “collection type” of curriculum being fostered, especially in schools where the majority of students are of low socioeconomic status. Bernstein (1975) states that the task of the school is to get students to a position where the family accepts and supports the means and ends of the school and the student becomes fully involved in the school. I would guess that many of the parents were either detached or estranged during their schooling, which would promote the same, or alienation in their own children. I've heard several responses to this, such as the one cited by teachers interviewed by Kylene Beers:

Those kids, well, they live in such turmoil at home that we provide structure, quiet, orderliness, here at school . . . . Students here need to get the basics; we don’t have much time with them when you look at all they need to learn, so we must drill the basics into them. They do better with strong discipline . . . . Some kids can handle the higher-level thinking discussions you might see in other schools, but not the kids here; the kids here haven’t had anyone show them how to act and so we do. We demand they sit still and answer questions and they learn how to do that. (Foster & Nosol, 2008, p. x)

I've actually had teachers say to me, “Well, if the kid doesn't want to do his work, what can I do about it? I have 20 other students who want to learn, so if he want to put his head down on the desk, I'll let him, at least he isn't disruptive.” Or, “None of these kids complete their homework. I can't lower my standards, so they get zeros. If they were motivated, they'd get the work in, I give them more than enough time to do it in class.” From my experience, too many teachers were the fully committed students when they went to school, and can't wrap their minds around the idea that a student might be detached, estranged or alienated by the school. And, there isn't enough pre-service attention to how to work with kids that don't fit into the current system of education. In fact, some teachers express relief at having a “problem child” truant, as it is easier to conduct the rest of the class. (Which, although it seems I am pointing fingers – as the old adage says, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.” I'm as guilty as any other teacher.)

However, Berstein (1975) does give some hope:

In pluralistic societies like ours, where there are many and conflicting images of conduct, character and manner, and where technological change is rapid the school system is subject to many pressures. These pressures are translated to the pupil in terms of the character of his role involvement. The external pressures of the society as a whole are crystallized out and felt and experienced by the child in terms of each of these five roles he moves towards. The school system need not necessarily be a passive mediator or, at worst, an amplifier for these general social pressures. (p. 49)

If the school does not need to be a mediator, nor an amplifier of societal pressures, what then can it be and should it be? Returning to Counts, what is the new social order in which the teachers should be uniting to form? Is it possible to have a truly classless society in the modern era? And should schools be the catalyst?
Bernstein, B.(1975). Class, codes and control, vol 3. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Counts, GS (1932). Dare the school build a new social order. New York: John Day.
Foster, H. & Nosol, M. (2008). America’s unseen kids: Teaching English/Language Arts in today’s forgotten high schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.