There have been so many exciting things going on the past few weeks in class, and many ideas to think about. I have personally been wrestling back and forth with the idea of the “whole student” versus school system constraints.
Throughout the class, I think a pervasive theme that has run throughout many of the readings we have done is the fact that many teachers (mainly white and female) make assumptions about their students based on cultural and social biases. We tend to view students through our own cultural lenses.
This is obviously a problem in a lot of ways. One of this week’s assigned articles by Ray & Gregory (2001) illuminates the issue that many children of lesbian or gay parents do not feel supported by teachers, and are not always likely to seek their intervention—or if they do, they do not always feel that the intervention that was given was appropriate or helpful (p 31, p34). Cristina Igoa’s (1995) book, The Inner World of the Immigrant Child, addresses the idea that it is incredibly important to pay attention and give credence to the particular needs of each child in a classroom, and that schools as institutions cannot always address these needs (pp 8-9). When teachers do not or cannot get to know their students in their home setting, they cannot always empathize with the students’ particular issues or problems and cannot always address them appropriately. They have no cultural context to draw from except their own, which does not breed the kind of empathy a teacher needs to address individual problems. Therefore, it seems that the best way to address students’ individual needs is by getting to know each student as an individual, in the context of his or her family and ideally, community, setting.
Moll, Amanti, Nell, and Gonzalez (1992) try to provide a hands-on solution for teachers through the implementation of a whole-person approach to teaching. Their idea is to get teachers to work with ethnographers in order to gather qualitative information on individual students by going together to interview the students’ family members in their own homes and communities. They assert that by gaining this knowledge, teachers will be able to create curriculum based mainly on it. While I think this is an excellent idea, to me, it seems incredibly impractical—at least within the current framework of public schools that we have set up.
The methodology outlined in this article is so problematic to me for many reasons. First, because of the tedious process that it takes in order to train teachers in order to do this work. The authors of this work discussed their efforts in training teachers, which included a series of workshops. Only 10 teachers participated in this study (p.76). Second, while the authors of this study did not discuss any kind of resistance to teachers and ethnographers going into students’ homes, I cannot imagine that in our current public school system, all parents would be amenable to accepting teachers into their homes to sit and chat and gather information on their life stories. Many parents do not have time for this or would maybe not make time, or maybe they would not want teachers to have such a personal relationship with their families. Third, it would be incredibly time consuming for a teacher, who, say, has 30 students in her class to visit 30 homes and interview, write field notes, etc. on all students. Also, is the teacher going to bring an ethnographer to every home visit? I should think not. Finally, the authors of this study claim that by combining a variety of field techniques such as “ethnographic observations, open-ended viewing strategies, life histories, and case studies…analytically, [they] can portray accurately the complex functions of households within their sociohistorical contexts.” (p.71) I know the assignment here calls for me to paraphrase most quotes, but I felt this was an important one to include because although this may be true for individual households, how can one generalize this to an entire ethnic population? Just because I am an American does not mean that I live the same way as my next-door neighbor.
Additionally, I find fault with this study because of the fact that it highlights only one example of an interaction between the ethnographer, student, and teacher.
Like many teachers, I love the idea of the whole-student approach. How to get there is another story. There are a few practical techniques in my mind that may be workable within the current public school system. Some of these are outlined by Cristina Igoa throughout her book (1995), and mainly they include allowing the student to empower him or herself to represent his or her home culture by giving presentations, writing about him or herself and his or her home country and home culture, wearing native dress and sharing native food, speaking his or her native language, etc. In addition to these, some ideas I had were to a) have the student invite a family member to school to share with the other students about his or her home culture, 2) interview and record or observe a family member within the home in order to bring to class and share, 3) keep a personal journal to increase mutual understanding between the teacher and the student, 4) invite family members to have personal conferences, instead of going to the students’ homes directly.
I think it would be lovely for teachers to be able to do home visits, and if a school allows such visits, then by all means it would be a wonderful experience, if also allowed by students’ family members. Given that teachers are not always trusted by parents, and there are issues of liability involved in incidents occurring outside of the school, the home visit approach is simply not always a practical solution. Certainly doing extensive sociological field research and including teachers in the process is not a practical, long-term, or budget-friendly solution, as idealistic as it may be.
Throughout this class and others, I have most definitely felt frustrated by a seemingly inflexible public school system, with layers of bureaucracy. Maybe some teachers have not had the experiences I have had here in America, but it seems that “the system” usually trumps the individual needs of teachers and of students. I am, like Igoa, of the opinion that “A teacher cannot do it all”, and also that “classrooms need to change so that teachers can become more than dispensers of information.” (p.9). I am constantly reading and trying to learn how so that we can see a different system moving forward, one that will foster better relationships among teachers and the individuals in their classrooms.
Thanks for reading! Hope you guys enjoy the “dog days” of summer!
Igoa, Cristina. (1995) The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D, & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching:
Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms. Theory Into .
Practice, 31, 132-141.
Ray, V., & Gregory, R. (2001). School experiences of the children of lesbian and gay
parents. Family Matters, 59, 28-34.