Archive for the ‘Ethic of care’ Category
“Teachers must recognize in a conscious and deliberate manner their own worth as an interpretive community” (Fecho 1993).
Somehow, the pervasive and ridiculous saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” had escaped my ears until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember hearing it in a movie while working on my credential at Mills and couldn’t believe that this quote could possibly be so widespread. I knew at that point, from first hand experience, what a complex art it is to be a teacher, how deeply one has to know one’s subject, students, and self in order to teach well. This quote seemed profoundly mistaken to me.
Over the years, as I have talked about my work with friends and family, I have been struck by their common misconceptions of what teachers do. When I arrive at a dinner date with friends and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was at work until six today,” I am often met with inquiring gazes, and sometimes asked, “so…what do you all afternoon? Don’t the kids leave at 2:15?” I am continually surprised that many people do not know a teacher’s job goes on long after the bell rings. And so I bring my busy and yet unseen afternoon into the light, telling them about the thought and preparation that goes into each lesson, my assessment of student work, collaboration with colleagues, and communication with parents. Amidst these daily components of my job, I may also share about the unexpected challenges that have arisen on that particular day, working to get Medical set up for a family, keeping a student late to re-teach an important math concept, or gathering classroom materials for a newly admitted student. In telling these stories of what it truly means to be a teacher, I can do my part to slowly debunk the oppressive and mistaken portrait of the teacher that has been drawn in our minds.
So often teachers are overworked and have little extra time to be involved in the creation and critique of education discourse. It is a marginalization cycle that perpetuates itself: policy-makers are removed from the classroom and so do not seek to change the circumstances that teachers face, and since the public is not familiar with the reality of teaching, many continue to believe stories about the lazy or ignorant teacher. Seeing themselves reflected as such in the public eye, teachers often internalize these erroneous concepts, and then remain further silenced. If we are to break out of this system of teacher marginalization, we as teachers must recognize our own worth. Our voices must extend beyond our classroom walls, as we confer and deliberate within teacher communities. We must share our stories with others and develop a language for challenging misconceptions when we hear them. By bringing our expertise into the formal and informal arenas of education discourse, the meaningful, difficult, and activist work that we engage in daily can be more publicly seen and understood.
Jessica Lahey, a high school teacher and writer, argues in the Atlantic magazine (February, 2013) (that introverts should be required to speak in class. She claims that classroom participation grades are not only fair; they are necessary. Drawing on recent work on introverts (e.g., Susan Cain’s popular new book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking), she suggests that in order to be successful in today’s world, it is imperative that introverted students be taught and coerced through grades and expectations to participate in class.
I disagree. Lahey paints students who are quiet in her class with a broad brush, calling them all “introverts.” The truth is that there are many reasons students may choose not to verbally participate in school. Some students are painfully shy and perhaps even introverts. Other students choose their moments to speak carefully, participating in silence for long periods before they decide to speak aloud. Some are quiet in school and loud in other contexts. Sometimes a student’s silence protects her from ridicule or bullying. In many cultures, silence is a sign of deep respect and more highly valued than talk. I would argue that Lahey’s advocacy for grading or counting classroom participation ignores the value and uses of silence in the classrooms, overlooking the myriad of other ways students participate.
Lahey also locates students’ silences in individuals rather than understanding them as a product of group interaction and situations. The students she worries about are ones she labels as “introverts”, assuming it is a characteristic of the student rather than the circumstance that creates the silence or reticence. I would suggest, instead, that it is useful to look at how classrooms and other contexts create silences in youth. Rather than punishing the so-called introverts for their silence or forcing them to speak by grading their classroom participation, teachers like Lahey might inquire into the silence of certain students in their classrooms, looking into the reasons for their silence, the places where are they more vocal, and imagining other ways they might be encouraged to participate.
In my own work, I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.) But can students participate without speaking out loud? Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participation? It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak. Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion? How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms? Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.
Lahey claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success. I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences. I want us to remain cautious about labeling children as introverts, rather than understanding the larger contexts of how and why they choose to participate in certain ways. Otherwise, the particular contributions these students make to the classroom community may be unheard, unrecognized, and discounted. The absence of talk might lead a teacher to assume the absence of learning. It may be difficult for a student to escape the label of the “silent” student or the “introvert.”
There are potentially grave consequences for students when teachers do not understand their silence as a form of participation. Narrow interpretations of the meanings of silence can lead to false assumptions about student participation in classroom activities. For instance, students who are silent might receive low grades for classroom participation, when in fact they are actively engaged in learning. Rather than working to fix or change “introverts” I suggest we understand the various reasons students choose to participate verbally in classrooms or to refrain from such participation. Shouldn’t our goal as educators be to rethink our classroom as places that support all students to learn?
Note: I elaborate these ideas in my book, Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices, Teachers College Press, 2009.
This originally appeared on the Washington Post’s education blog: The Answer Sheet on 2/12/13.
When I was a classroom teacher I had a poster in my room that said, “The highest fences we need to climb are those we’ve built within our minds.” I have always found this statement to be true for my students, and when I became the math coordinator for the Prison University Project I found that it was true for me as a teacher as well.
When it comes to learning math, many students enter the classroom with an internal narrative about who they are as students and what they are able to accomplish in a math class. We all know the power a good teacher can have on the success of a student. For adult learners, a good teacher can affect not only how well a student learns the material, but also how they see themselves as students. Working with incarcerated adults who are returning to the classroom I witness the change in their internal narrative. Many students have been away from school for many years or didn’t see themselves as “college material” when they were growing up. What makes my work so enjoyable is watching the transformation that takes place when adults are finally able to have the success in math that they didn’t have before.
The pre-college program at the Prison University Project works with students to build basic skills in English and Math and prepare them to enroll in college courses. But below the surface there are other changes happening as well. Students are learning study skills, critical thinking, and how to participate in class. And the dedication the students have towards their learning is exciting to watch. Having worked as a teacher in public schools, I witnessed students who took their education for granted. The students at PUP are in many ways the “dream” students for teachers because they are engaged, dedicated, and set high standards for themselves. I am continually impressed by how PUP students connect their education goals to their larger life goals and continue to persevere even when it’s difficult. Watching them overcome their past struggles in math inspired me to think about my own internal narrative.
Before working in a prison I imagined prisoners as one-dimensional, defined by their capacity to commit crime. However, the conversations I have with students, the issues that come up in classes, the skills that students struggle with, are the same as in my other teaching experiences. Very quickly after taking my job I realized I had my own narrative about prisoners to overcome. In this static environment they are taking advantage of the opportunity to change. Working with the Prison University Project is seeing teaching that changes lives in its purest sense.
The College Program at San Quentin State Prison is currently recruiting teachers to co-teach pre-college Math and English classes (Math 50 and English 99) this coming spring semester. Teachers with these classes typically work in teams, with each set of instructors covering one evening per week.
Math 50 has several sections that are held on some combination of Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings from 6-8:30pm. This course covers math from about first grade level (place value) to eighth grade level (pre-algebra) and is geared toward students needing review before moving on to a college algebra course.
All sections of English 99 meet on Sunday, Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings. This pre-college composition course prepares students to write college level essays.
The Prison University Project provides incarcerated men at San Quentin with higher education opportunities through our College Program in partnership with Patten University. Our teachers are volunteers from universities around the Bay Area including UC Berkeley, Stanford, and University of San Francisco. There is no minimum education requirement to be an instructor for the pre-college classes, but those with an education background or previous teaching experience are strongly encouraged to apply. We receive no state or federal funding, so major expenses like textbooks and supplies are funded entirely by donations.
If you are interested in working with the pre-college program, please contact Regina Guerra at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
As a white, middle class, single mother, there was never a time during my son’s childhood when I worried that his behavior would result in incarceration. While building a life for us did not come easily, the burden borne by the mothers of African American, Latino, Native American and South East Asian youth in the school to prison pipeline overshadows any challenges I faced raising my son. From a young age Lucas had access to multiple forms of capital: cultural, aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, and navigational. This web of capital and privilege made it possible for him to bypass the trauma and barriers placed upon young boys and men of color that have become an almost seamless path to incarceration. How our schools became the conduit for this pipeline demonstrates multiple levels of social and economic failure.
In my role as a writing instructor from 2008-2011 at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, introduced me to the lives of young and old men as they spread their rage, frustration and indignation across pages. There were also times that the most tender words imaginable and loving ideas possible flooded those pages as well. In 2011, I taught violent male offenders in weekly life writing and reading class at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. Earlier in my career as public school teacher I had been prepared as a Reading Recovery teacher which profoundly shaped my understanding of how reading and writing growth occur. My former experience informed how I assessed my student’s needs while working to keep the curriculum responsive to their needs and relevant to their interests. Currently, I am teaching a life writing class at Ralph Bunch Alternative Academy, part of the Oakland Unified School District. That class is comprised of students who have been expelled or failed out of comprehensive high schools in the district.
Through my varied experiences teaching in correctional and alternative settings, I have found much of the writing produced to be evocative and transformational. The efforts of my students to restory their lives drew my attention to the need to create a new narrative around prisons and the pipeline to prison in our society and the need to work to create social justice instead of imprisonment.
Many public schools have become pathways to incarceration rather than opportunities to educate and empower. The economic reality of the school to prison pipeline has extraordinary implications for school leaders, as it affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms. We need to alter how we deal with conflicts within and among students, how we build coalitions and what demands and values we identify as central to fight for social justice. The school to prison pipeline undermines the possibility for our country to truly become great because of the way we treat a certain demographic in our human capital.
The way school leaders and teachers respond to the behaviors children bring to school is one way the pipeline is fed. It is important to recognize the role that harsh discipline policies play is sustaining disparities in incarceration. California leads the way in suspensions and expulsions from public schools. In 2009-2010, California school districts expelled roughly 21,000 students and handed out more than 75,000 suspensions. In a recent study from the Council of State Governments, California’s annual suspension rate exceeds the national average.
Zero-tolerance policies are another way the pipeline is perpetuated. Such policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Even the American Bar Association has condemned zero-tolerance policies as inherently unjust. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer or in any way improve student behavior. On the contrary, research suggests that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.
Decker Walker and Jonas Soltis, esteemed scholars in the area of curriculum studies, note, “Even one mismatch or denial of opportunity for a person to grow in one direction rather than another would be a moral transgression against an individual that might change a whole life.” Advocating for and implementing practices that guard against such moral transgressions is imperative to ending the school to prison pipeline. Empowering learners to take responsibility for their learning while scaffolding positive social interaction in a democratic learning environment should be the sort of schooling experience every school age child in America can access.
As states and school districts across the country embrace common-core standards, U.S. educators are in need of a public proving ground where standards-based instruction can be enacted and studied. What might such a proving ground look like?
In Japan, changes in national education standards cause ripples of activity across the country, as practitioners and researchers collaborate to bring their ideas to life in “public research lessons.” Here’s a simple example of how this process works:
When the topic of solar cells was added to the Japanese elementary curriculum, national guidelines specified only the basic objectives for student learning, not the specific teaching methods. Teachers and researchers, working collaboratively in dozens of small groups across the country, studied the available research and curricula (much of it from the United States). These teams then tried out their ideas in a local elementary school, progressively refining teaching materials and approaches based on student responses. After a year or so of experimentation, they opened up their instruction to others in large public research lessons.
The tens of thousands of educators, researchers, and policymakers who attended these public research lessons could see and discuss live instruction designed to enact the standards. They were able to question the teachers and researchers about the rationale for their choices, scrutinize the entire unit plan and records of student learning across the unit, and offer their own ideas and critiques. Each team focused on the needs of their own local students, but also drew on work by other teams when useful.
Over the first year or two of public lessons, information on how to teach about solar cells spread rapidly. A store of shared knowledge developed about practical aspects of teaching the subject—for example, which solar toys were inexpensive and made important ideas visible—as well as about the kinds of student thinking to expect, how to handle it, and the subject matter itself. One teacher observing a public research lesson, for example, asked about the scientific significance of some student strategies, including moving a solar cell closer to a light source, adding a second light source, and using a magnifying class to “concentrate” light.
“I want to know whether the three conditions the children described—’to put the solar cell closer to the light source,”to make the light stronger,’ and to ‘gather the light’—would all be considered the same thing by scientists. They don’t seem the same to me. But I want to ask the teachers who know science whether scientists would regard them as the same thing.”
The Japanese system of distributed, local, collaborative lesson-study work, culminating in public research lessons, enables educators to develop and share the many intertwined types of knowledge needed to implement standards well in the classroom—knowledge of instructional materials, teaching strategies, student thinking, and content. Such a public proving ground has several advantages over the processes of standards enactment currently familiar in the United States.
First, it recognizes that translating standards into practice is demanding, important, intellectual work. The final product of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, now being adopted here, represents an enormous accomplishment. But the standards are only splotches of ink on paper until a teacher brings them to life in a classroom. Their enactment in the classroom requires continuing experimentation, intense scrutiny, and the development of shared knowledge about what works and does not—in many different settings.
Second, it allows teachers to take the initiative in the implementation of standards and to bring their own important knowledge to bear. Public research lessons provide a natural incentive for collaborative between teachers and researchers, who share the desire to create effective lessons and document them in ways that enable others to learn from their work.
Third, it places students and student thinking at the center of reform. Although U.S. policymakers talk about “a marketplace of good materials,” how well can materials be judged without actually seeing students and teachers use them in diverse settings?
Fourth, it recognizes that the knowledge needed for standards-based instruction cannot be captured entirely in written documents such as frameworks and teacher manuals. Much of the knowledge for teaching is embodied in the instruction itself, and is spread and refined as teachers watch each other teach.
Fifth, it recognizes that improvement needs to be continuous. A static set of “best practices” on paper or video is insufficient because students are not static.
Sixth, it exerts much-needed pressure on textbook content and design. In the work leading up to public research lessons in Japan, teachers and researchers together review existing textbooks and research and choose what they believe to be the best approach. Plans written by lesson-study groups explain why they chose—and rejected—various textbook approaches.
Japanese publishers notice the conclusions emerging from public research lessons and revise textbook content to reflect what is being learned. That may explain why our recent study of two U.S. and two Japanese elementary textbook series found that the Japanese texts use the same four models to represent fractions, while the U.S. texts use 15 different models.
Finally, public research lessons provide an opportunity for policymakers to see how teachers and students actually respond to the standards in a best-case scenario in which teachers have adequate time and support to enact them. Because the policymakers who write the national standards attend public research lessons and see what aspects of the standards need further support or revision, the lessons also allow formative research on policy.
Moreover, policymakers, teachers, and researchers develop a shared understanding of the standards, based on instruction they have all seen and discussed. For example, after a recent public research lesson in California, something startling happened. While many of the nearly 100 observers thought that the mathematics lesson they had seen brilliantly realized the mathematician George Polya’s ideas about problem-solving, a few, including some influential state policymakers, could not see any relationship between the lesson and the state’s problem-solving standards. This gap in perception sparked useful conversations about the meaning of “problem-solving” in the state standards, and helped lead to eventual consensus: that solving novel problems—not just solving word problems with known procedures—was an important facet of the standard.
How feasible is such a public proving ground in this country? Experienced lesson-study groups already exist over most of the United States, and some of them hold regular public research lessons one or more times a year, using video and audio projection to accommodate large audiences. Many of these groups center on close collaboration between classroom teachers and university-based subject-matter specialists. And evidence is accumulating to show that the groups help their members build content and instructional knowledge, enhance student learning, improve collegial work, and spread teaching knowledge across the boundaries of schools and districts.
In the quest to bring common-core standards to life, we should consider the power of public research lessons. In a recent Education Week article on the implementation of common standards, a researcher described the process of developing curriculum frameworks this way: “When people go into a room and come out with solutions, it’s typically about money or politics. … So the question is, why are people going into that room? What are they after?”
What would happen if “that room” were a classroom? By using classrooms all over the United States as the public proving ground to enact, analyze, and refine standards-based practice, we could come out of the room with solutions that are not about money or politics, but about what and how students are learning.
This post was originally published in 2010 in Education Week (Vol. 30, Issue 03, Pages 28-30).
Over the past two years Child Life faculty in the School of Education, Linda Perez, Ph.D. and Susan Marchant, MA, CCLS have worked with Japan Seitoku University Cooperative, a Japanese government grant to investigate models for educating non-medical professionals in hospital settings.
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On June 21, 2012 we traveled to Tokyo, Japan to present a series of Child Life lectures to medical doctors, professors at Seitoku University, and Japanese Child Life Specialists that focused on “The Professional Work of Child Life Specialists in the United States” and the “History and Education of Child Life Specialists.” We also provided continuing education training to a group of Child Life Specialists that chronicled Susan’s process of building a Child Life department at Children’s Hospital in Oakland and Linda’s work in Infant Mental Health and Early Brain Development of High Risk Medically Fragile Preterm Infants born in the Intensive Care Nursery.
During our stay in Japan, we toured the National Center for Child Health and Development, a children’s hospital where Mills graduate, Megumi Aiyoshi ’06 MA, CCLS works. We were most impressed with how the hospital staff welcomed us and how they provide child and family focused care. For example, throughout the patient rooms, medical treatment spaces, play areas, and waiting locations, the child and family focused themes and interactive experiences are abundant. In the (radiology or nuclear) medicine environments, appropriate child-oriented themes create a comfortable atmosphere, which children and families can relate to. Here patients develop their own masks and watch videos which support their coping strategies during a medical procedure.
We also visited Seitoku University and sat in on class lectures. Similar to the structure of Mills Child Life courses, professors engage students to take an active role in their own learning process. Finally, we went to observe a government-run and a private preschool, and an infant home of the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center that is aimed at raising babies and infants with special needs who have difficulties being cared for by their families. The infant center offers childcare and nursing which enables the integration of child development and physical and mental wellbeing. It nurtures a strong relationship with the parents in an effort towards family reunification.
The Mills Child Life faculty learned that the Child Life Specialists’ work in Japan is supported by the pediatricians’ interest and beliefs in their work. The pediatricians understand the important role child life plays in advocating for the child and family, and in providing psychosocial interventions to reduce children’s pain and suffering during their hospital stay. As such, they are communicating and working with the professors at Seitoku University to establish an academic Child Life Program to increase the number of Japanese Child Life Specialists. Like them, we believe that as the number of Child Life Specialists grows and gains support from the medical community, Child Life will play an important role in Japanese medical society.
We left Japan with much gratitude for the care that everyone we met provided us during our visit. We take great pride in the accomplishments of the Japanese Child Life graduates who graduated from Mills School of Education. In the last 17 years, we have educated 20 of the 26 Japanese Child Life Specialists who are working diligently and long hours in hospitals in Japan. We in the United States have much to learn from their dedication and commitment to hospitalized children and their families. We are certain that they will continue to contribute to the professional field of Child Life, both in Japan and in the United States. The Child Life faculty at Mills College looks forward to continuing to coordinate our efforts with Seitoku University and Child Life Specialists in Japan to ensure moving the field forward.
Lastly, we would like to acknowledge and thank Professor Mikiko Tabu, Megumi Aiyoshi, MA, CCLS, Dr. Miyamoto, M.D., Ph.D., Dr. Matsurra, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Hirozumi, and all of the Child Life Specialists who traveled long distances to attend our lectures. Their hospitality, expertise, and generosity were very much appreciated.
Linda Perez, Ph.D. Susan Marchant, MA, CCLS
Holland Professor Adjunct Professor
Professor of Education
On Monday morning, classroom teachers were confronted by a set of competing priorities. On one hand, most are immersed in testing and test preparation. Teachers and schools are focused on preparing students to do well in a high stakes and uncertain process. At the same time, the world was humming with the discussion about one of the most important events in recent years: the killing of Osama Bin Laden. How do teachers decide what to teach in this context? Can teachers truly avoid incorporating such a historic event in their teaching in the face of testing and curricular demands? Current events constitute a background curriculum, the experiences from which teachers must draw to make content relevant and interesting for students. They are also a part of the content of students’ daily lives. As caring teachers, we are responsible for our students’ healthy socio-emotional development. Students need us to help them process and understand what often are confusing, scary, or upsetting adult actions or events. Even from a practical perspective, students will likely be distracted by the images and stories prompted by President Obama’s late-night announcement, the celebrating crowds outside the White House and Ground Zero, and the myriad pundits jockeying for attention. In order to think about these decisions and strategies, we turned to our colleagues at the Mills College School of Education gather some initial reflections on how to respond to this historical moment. We invite you to add your own reflections or classroom experiences.
Priya Shimpi – Yesterday, as the wait for the press conference went from curiosity, to fear, to speculation, to the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, we found ourselves as a family, interrupting bedtime in order to attend to the details of the historic event, as they were made available. My 2 1/2-year-old son sat on my lap and watched our president make his brief speech confirming the earlier news reports. While we were watching, he asked, “Why is Barack Obama on TV?” I replied, “He is on TV because something important happened.” My son did not ask any further questions, but as a parent and Early Childhood professional, I wonder what I would have said if he had pressed for more information. How much do you talk to very young children about war and the celebration of the killing of a man whose actions led to thousands of civilian deaths? How much is a young child capable of understanding, and what would such a young child do with this information? For other children who have been more directly impacted by the events of 9/11 or who have older siblings, the weight of the event will be revealed by the emotional and behavioral changes in conversation and social cues—and toddlers will pick up on these differences. My choice was to honestly, yet broadly, approach the topic, but to be mindful that for a toddler, words like “war” are incredibly abstract; he (thankfully) has not had the opportunity to link this word to a concrete referent in the world. I am more relieved than happy to wait for the time when such a learning opportunity will arise.
Betty Lin – Today, young children—ages 0 through 9—do not have the same context as adults about Osama Bin Laden. Even though the images of 9-11 are fresh in my mind as if it occurred only yesterday, it happened 10 years ago. As early childhood educators, we must keep context in mind when the topic of Osama comes up amongst the young children in our care. Take the stance of wondering with the children. What have you heard about Osama? What have you noticed about the adults’ reactions when they talk about him? Help children frame their observations into questions. They may not understand the magnitude of this event, but they also don’t need the trauma from it. What they can relate to is what’s concrete in their lives. Ultimately, the question of defining good and bad comes up. I prefer to discuss the values of good and bad around human compassion and the ability to empathize. Why would someone NOT want to engage in acts of kindness? I have had many forms of this same question asked. My most recent answer is such: Because no one has shown him how to be kind. My message to the young children is that it is important for all of us to be kind and to show our friends how to engage in acts of kindness.
Anna Richert – It feels to me a bit surreal to know Osama Bin Laden was found, caught, and killed. A ten-year search is a long time—and as Dave Donahue and I were saying while walking across campus earlier today—even longer for the high school students our students teach. For them, ten years is a big chunk of their lives. Most probably don’t remember much about life before this search began. I wonder what they are thinking now. Were I teaching them, I’d ask. Though surreal, it’s also a relief to know that this chapter of our “war against terror” is over. At the same time, while the war on terror is a step further towards resolution, I feel a bit terrorized by the response of “my fellow Americans” dancing in the street, waving the American flag and shouting with joy. Buried not so deep in me are my recollections of Bin Laden’s followers dancing in the streets when the twin towers and all in them fell to the ground. Granted the circumstances are profoundly different, but our response tempers my hope that as a nation we can bring about real change that moves towards compassion and peace. Osama’s capture and death warrant carefully planned discussion time in school. If not there, where will our students have the opportunity to make sense of the world in which they live?
Rick Ayers – I find myself at a bit of a loss and, as usual, caught up in an uncomfortable observation of the national culture, at least as reported in the media. We can agree that Osama Bin Laden was a horrible, dangerous, unspeakable man. But I would want my students to think of some other things as well. First, the idea of Al Qaeda as a coherent, unitary, functioning organization with Bin Laden at the head has been put forward by some US government sources but this has always been in doubt. Second, that the number of people eager to carry out suicide attacks has proliferated since the US incursions. But most importantly, I would want to chip away at the sports metaphor that seems to control our thinking about world politics. The celebrations of his death were like Super Bowl victory parties. Some students outside the white house had big “We’re #1” foam hands. Many of my students have been raised in a world of superheroes, video games, sports—all projects that simplify life into bad guys and good guys. I would perhaps try to use something from Joel Westheimer’s “Pledging Allegiance – The politics of patriotism in America’s schools,” such as Debbie Meier’s piece, “On Patriotism and the Yankees – Lessons Learned from being a Fan.” (See also for example: Cheering a Monster’s Death Is Not the Same as Patriotism)
Vicki Van Steenberg – With the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the topic of terrorism and “combating” it are headlines everywhere. I think about the efforts to protect and provide security this last decade in the United States. The lenses of Intelligence and an Afghani father in California come to mind—the tension for both parties seems related to the circumstances of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden that created and continue to put question marks around individuals’ movements and actions.
A CNN producer, Chuck Afflerbach, brought an actual court transcript to a play-reading group I am in, a court case he was covering at the time. This case involved the interrogation of a father and son from Lodi who had immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan. The young Hamid Hayat, an American citizen, had traveled to Afghanistan to visit relatives. He was detained upon returning to the U.S., on an FBI tip that he had studied at a terrorist camp while away. After 20 straight hours of interrogation in separate rooms, the father Umer Hayat and son Hamid Hayat were saying anything to sleep it seemed, the father misunderstanding English and attempting to protect his son by going to jail himself, instead of his youthful son. The statements of the two men contradicted each other. The FBI questions were tricky ones, especially for English language learners.
Umer were arrested in 2005 and put on trial in 2006. There is a lengthy article available on Wikipedia. What I liked about the transcript/play is that it allowed the readers to draw their own conclusion. Either they were innocent dupes who were entrapped by the FBI, or they were sneaky characters exposed by the investigative skill of the FBI.
Both men were jailed and their guilt was not so clear. If anyone would like the transcript as a play to be used in a classroom, to see through different lenses on the topic of terrorism, Chuck can be contacted for this script at his e-mail: email@example.com
Ruth Cossey – Our teaching and our learning are impacted by many events and emotional experiences that take place outside of our classrooms. For you or your students, acts of violence may spark such classroom intrusion. You may be aware of your students’ experiences – a local, national or international “incident” blasted by the media, or you may learn of the emotional disruption only after a student discloses it to you. Know that violent events often evoke values related to justice, fairness, religion, or national and personal identity. We have a responsibility to support our students’ moral development and listen carefully to them as they sort out their feelings; however, we need to take care not to allow our own sense of outrage, of sorrow, of despair or jubilation overwhelm student views during in-school discussions. Instead we need to find places and colleagues where we are free to process the impact of the world on our wellbeing as teachers and fellow travelers on this planet. In the case of recent events surrounding 9-11, I have seen our students at Mills pushed to silent retreat or rage as classmates expressed strong values in professor sanctioned discussions.
Kathy Schultz – I learned about the death of Osama Bin Laden Sunday evening from my daughter who texted me: “Are you watching the news on T.V?” My immediate reaction was to write back to ask whether something new was happening in Syria. My son is living in Damascus and studying Arabic. What was foremost on my mind, and the lens through which I heard this news, was my own child’s safety at that moment. We all understand events like this one through our own lived experiences and beliefs, whether we had a loved one who died on 9/11, a relative harassed after 9/11 because of her Arab heritage, or a son living in the Middle East during a time of uprisings and change. As teachers, leaders, parents and citizens, we bring these experiences and ways of understanding the world into our classrooms, homes, and communities. Our students and the young people in our lives also bring their own perspectives and daily experiences. As teachers, our most important response is to listen carefully to our students. Listen to what they say and also to their silences. Create time and space for response that is individual and communal. Find opportunities for young people to articulate questions and reflections through words and also through other media such as art and music. We live in times filled with complexity and as teachers, mentors and parents we can find ways to hold onto that complexity rather than seeking the simple solutions of praise or condemnation. We can work to insure that we recognize and point to what is being said and what is omitted from the public discourse and the conversations in our own classrooms.
Tomás Galguera – I’ve been thinking about the relative meaning we as humans attach to lives and deaths, the significance and apparent justification behind each act, and how we deal with the aftermath as we go on living. I suppose that few people on this planet don’t know who Osama Bin Laden is. I also guess that everyone can form an opinion about his death, from the detached, calculated analysis of pundits who imagine likely discussions between President Obama and advisors about the practicality of not capturing Bin Laden alive, to the raw sadness of relatives and Al Qaeda members who mourn his loss. I have no doubt that even young students might have something to say about the news of his death, which is likely to be shaped by their developing sense of justice and morality. Ultimately, this one man’s death, a murder, justified homicide, war casualty, martyrdom, or killing is a significant event, a milestone set in the collective memory like the World Trade Center Towers’ collapse, the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even Obama’s election. These are events that punctuate our experiences and, eventually, history. They soon are codified as “official” and worth learning; academic content. Quite likely, new history textbooks are being revised to include Osama Bin Laden’s death in them. Of course social sciences teachers are discussing and will discuss with students not only his death but also its historical significance.
But there is also a local dimension to how students process violent deaths, one that unfortunately is all too familiar to them: murders that take place around us often, but in much greater anonymity. The current homicide count in Oakland is 34, with the last two killings taking place on April 25, near Jack London Square. Despite the tragic loss these deaths represent, the murders barely registered in the collective consciousness. And yet these deaths will be a reference point for Oakland students, perhaps as they participate in a discussion of Bin Laden’s death in some classroom.
This year’s murder rate for Oakland is higher than last year’s, a statistic that trivializes the loss of lives and their impact on those left behind and that dulls the rest of us into acceptance. Strangely, a single killing, thousands of miles away is more present in my mind than two others nearby. I wonder what knowing about humans killing other humans prompts in children’s minds.
Edna Mitchell – I find myself feeling a bit as I did when the Challenger exploded with Krista McCaulliff aboard, being touted as the teacher in space with children tuned in watching with lesson pages in hand as the space craft exploded. What a terrible and unnecessary tragedy to which to expose children.
And, now what to say about another terrible thing… a government sanctioned search and murder. It is complicated, of course, by his complete commitment to the destruction of the US and those complicit with US and Western governments. He was by all assessments our enemy…. we should be celebrating. But to teach children and students to celebrate a politically sanctioned murder seems to contradict other values about the sanctity of life that we hold dear. Is this justice as our President proclaimed?
Having lived and worked in Afghanistan for a significant portion of time since 9/ll I have some personal basis for weighing reactions to this event as will be felt by Afghans, Pakistanis, and Muslims in countries who may have been shocked and sympathetic when 9/11 occurred ten years ago, but whose views about American power and American intentions have taken a sour turn in recent years.
Bin Laden will emerge a hero in death, a martyr for Islam. He will be revered in history by many who teach children.
For teachers, our responsibility in handling controversial issues (and I do think this is controversial) in the classroom is to maintain the role of the reflective adult. Teachers need to keep their personal opinions out of the discussion, but can encourage expression of divergent views without approving or disapproving; with acceptance and questions or comments that enable students to consider alternative viewpoints and their implications if broadly applied. Teachers should attempt to understand what the students comprehend—what do they know, believe, understand about the reason for the President’s speech. The topic now is, and in the future will be, one that inspires debate and that has the likelihood of being divisive within a class. What needs to be kept in mind is that this American action need not be embraced as “RIGHT” in order to show one’s patriotism. Right and wrong are not black and white in this instance. The complexity of it is what is most challenging and attractive as a discussion topic. But, care must be taken. Attitudes and beliefs are at stake. Even teachers may be judged by comments made with good intentions.
The world is not safer with Osama Bin Laden buried at sea. Students at some levels may be able to understand that this is not the wild West with the Sheriff at High Noon as much as we would like to join in the celebration of the climax and the success of the right side. This political drama has ramifications that can divide the world into “us” and “them” and can even divide US as Americans. Let the debate continue, but find ways to help students, and adults, listen to and respect the views of others while also trying to understand what lies behind and is shaping those views.
Afghans are wondering, “Does this mean the Americans can now go home since they have found their target?” I predict the answer to that will be, “No….” for a variety of complex reasons but few that will have the best interests of the Afghans truly in the center.
Off my chest but still in my heart!