Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Potential Weapon, Literacy

Literacy with an Attitude - Finn

I really enjoyed this reading.  I felt that it finally got at one of the biggest issues in education, economic status and how it affects students' education.  

As I read I broke up the classes into the three sections that Anyon did and I created this little table:

Working Class
Middle Class
Upper Class
Comments about Knowledge
one student mentioned “think”
learn, remember, facts, study, smartness, intelligent, know, school, study, brains
open to discovery, think, figuring out stuff, you can make knowledge
Dominant Theme
excellence, individualism, humanitarianism 
follow direction, quiet
getting right answer from text or teacher
think for oneself, creativity, discovery
to follow directions, do mechanical, low-paying work,
follow orders and do the mental work that keeps society producing and running smoothly, cooperation
create products and art, negotiate from powerful position, masters of the universe

I thought about this in reference to the type of schooling I had, and the type of schools I have taught in.   I identified with the themes that Anyon found, and as Finn said are still present in education today.  I thought about this also in reference to our upcoming paper.  I recognized a lot of my middle-class background coming out in my teaching style.  "Knowledge in the middle-class was "more conceptual"... more a matter of gaining information and understanding from socially approved sources." (pg. 13).   When thinking about the type of questions I pose to my students or have been posed to me they are mostly questions that can be answered by looking in the text or referring to what the teacher has said.  "You got the right answer by following directions, but the directions allowed for some choice, some figuring, some decision making, and the teacher explained the purpose of assignments and why the directions would lead to the right answer." (pg. 13)  This quote really ties in with how math was taught, and how I was taught math.  You follow the steps that the teacher gives you, if you follow the step correctly you get the right answer.  Now, I do see a shift in math instruction, there is more reasoning abstractly, modeling and strategy that goes into it.  Students are now having to problem solve and discover the algorithm instead of just being told it.  Students are being asked why.  This is probably how students in elite schools have been learning for a while, and now we are asking all schools to teach this way with the Common Core.  I think that teachers are struggling because they think that their "lower" students can't handle mathematical reasoning. "the teacher in one working-class school commented that she skipped pages dealing with mathematical reasoning and inferences because they were too hard." (pg. 10).  This is probably the same issues that teachers and parents are dealing with when it comes to the Common Core.  But I think it is learned behavior,  if we create a culture of "anti-dialogue," (pg. 169) how can we expect our students to reason abstractly and make inferences when we have been shutting them down for so long.  Freire's method in Brazil was dialogue, get people invested and concerned through dialogue and they will strive for an education, they will strive for literacy because they will have something to say and they will want to be heard.

"It was about empowering the powerless as a class so they can stand up for themselves." (pg. 172).  

There is a game here as Johnson said, and we need to empower the powerless so they can take a place within this game.


  1. Jenny,
    I think you make some awesome points regarding the struggling teachers' issues with the Common Core and whether we have created a culture of "anti-dialogue." I've heard so many comments about the "new" ways to do math and how they are terrible, outlandish, ridiculous, and everything in between. Students need to be able to figure out multiple ways of solving problems on their own instead of being given a very scripted formula to memorize or chart to recite in order to develop and demonstrate empowering tools.

    Also, I love that you created a visual table to organize the different classes Finn discusses regarding Anyon's studies. I'm curious, though, as to why you combined the "affluent professional" with the "executive elite" in this chart as just "Upper Class"...based on the descriptions of the students, the teachers and classrooms, and the learning that takes place in the schools, I can't help but think that they are significantly different. Especially in the views of humanitarianism...the Executive Elite school teaches students early that they "were evaluated on how well they kept control of the class," while the Affluent Professional school emphasized "mutual help and concern for one another and for humanity." Maybe this is reflective of what we had mentioned in class at some point...the difference between Upper Middle Class and Lower Upper Class, etc. Small differences, but significant. It also may be important to discuss the relationship between these two groups, as Finn points out that they will negotiate with one another on decisions, ideas and developments, but that the Executive Elite group will be the one to have the final say after substantial negotiation. Which group then, out of these two, has more power to advocate for the lower classes? Which group would want to help more? Which group is really at the top?

  2. About 5 years ago, the trend in schools became to have your "agenda" on the board, offer students an "entry activity/warm-up" give "direct instruction" for 30-40 minutes of class, then close with an "exit slip." Educational consultant companies came around to all the "low-performing (read urban)" schools with great ideas for maintaining classroom order and keeping students engaged. I actually sat through one of these all-day workshops, where the only takeaway for ELA teachers was that after reading a selection, we should "ask good questions." As if to assume that all the teacher prep and work I had put into my craft, I was failing our students by asking a bunch of crappy questions. Our presenter, when pressed for an example, replied "why don't you try asking your students to retell what happened in the scholastic magazine article?" (sarcasm coming next) You can imagine how earth-shattering and revolutionary such an idea was for me. To imagine such a dream where I could ask a student to remember "what happened in paragraph two? " was incomprehensible to an inarticulate dullard such as myself. The idea of a classroom set up like this, is the complete opposite of Sugata Mitra's dream of a school in the clouds, and Friere's powerful literacy. We were being taught by our magical consultants to invoke the first column of your chart. I can distinctly remember a conversation about NECAP scores, where our trainer told us "look we are not trying to move a mass of kids into the distinction category, we are trying to get some of your zeroes to be ones and twos." I hope I have done more to negotiate with and inspire my students, but I am afraid that the pressure of standardized testing, and the "caste society" in the US are too entrenched to realize real change any time soon.

  3. I read your blog post early this weekend before reading the text, so I was especially intrigued to see where the information from your chart came from. So, as I read those sections of the article, it made me think about how my students would answer those questions.

    So, Monday morning, I had my students answer them.

    The most common response mentioned "knowing stuff" or "knowing what to do and when to do it." As only 3 students believed that you cannot make knowledge, a large number of students explained that knowledge can be made through discovery, experiencing new things, and creating new things. It seems like their answers ended up between the middle class/"upper class" language that Finn mentioned. Something else I noticed was that many students were very particular in explaining the importance of sharing knowledge either through talking, teaching, or writing. I am curious to see how else these definitions of knowledge (and social class patterns) will play out in the rest of the year...