Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cabrini Green

After reading the book, "Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way", and our initial discussion of it in class, I took some time this evening to Google Cabrini Green. I looked at photos and watched a few videos on YouTube that were, in a nutshell, jaw-dropping. Seeing these images, someone (who is completely unaware of what "urban renewal" really means in most cases) would think that the Chicago Housing Authority is doing the "right thing" by demolishing this area and revamping it.

However, there are always two sides to every story. As I was scanning through some articles, I came across this one, "Two Tales of One City", from the Good Magazine website. The overview of the article is:
"For decades, the Cabrini-Green projects represented the worst of urban blight. Now, in the most massive public housing overhaul the country has ever seen, Chicago is tearing them down. But when you get rid of the slums, where do you put the people?"

It's an article that shed some light on the "other side" of the topic for me, especially when I read that in the new development, "20% [of the new units] have been set aside for affordable housing; 1/3 for public housing. The rest are selling for up to $850,000 a piece." We read in the book about how valuable the land the school and Cabrini Green was on, this just proves the point.

Having read up a little more on what has happened to Cabrini Green over the last several years, I began to wonder about the actual students from the book. They fought so hard to get a new elementary school in the community, and learn that the school was going to be closed anyways. It was a course that was already in motion (i.e. the school board changing the bus routes so that there was a subsequent decline in attendance). I wonder what has happened to them now. They were fifth grade students in 2004, which means that they are now at the high school level. With the redevelopment of Cabrini Green, thousands of families were forced to leave the area. Were these students caught up in the under-tow too?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Culture Inquiry Project topic details

For my Culture Inquiry project I intend to take a look at bookstores and libraries in urban areas and whether or not they encourage or discourage adolescent literacy practices within them. I want to take a look at how accessible these institutions are to adolescents who live in these areas, the types of activities available, their atmospheres and offerings.

I intend to collect my data by simple observations, surveys, and materials available at these locations. The different types of data I will collect will include:
• Location of bookstores
• Location of libraries
• Location of schools
• Location of housing relative to the aforementioned
• Hours of operation
• Window displays
• Layouts
• Event calendars
• Number of computers available (in libraries)
• Selection sizes
• Bus routes, schedules, and fees

Questions I may ask on my survey may include:
• Do you like going to the library or bookstore?
• Why do you go to these institutions?
• What do you like/dislike about them?
• When you first arrive, what area do you head to first? Why?
• How often do you go?
• Is it easy for you to get to them?
• What could they do to make you more interested in going?
• Do they make you want to read more?
• What topics interest you? Do these places offer enough on the topic(s)?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cultural Thoughts

It could easily be said that culture is the fingerprint of human social existence. When it comes to the components that make up one’s culture (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, language, and/or religion) every person on this earth is completely unique and nothing molds our every day lives more. This statement especially holds true when it comes to discussing culture, its components, and education, for the two almost go hand in hand, each helping to shape the other.

Race, class, gender, sexuality, language, religion, and other components play a major role in shaping one’s culture. They can determine how one views other individuals, events, and the world, how one is viewed by others, what resources are or are not available to them, what type of education they may or may not receive, or something as “everyday” as what one likes to do in their spare time. However, one’s culture has a correlating effect on these components in return. It is what gives us our perception of how the world works…it is what creates our mindset.

When thinking about my own culture, I immediately view myself as someone who has been greatly influenced by reading and writing my entire life, it having been stressed by my father, and for a few years, my step-mother. I also view myself as someone who is family oriented, despite all the complications it has brought to my life.

My culture shaped me tremendously as a learner. It taught me that education is a value and a high importance. I have been a learner for as long as I can remember, most particularly when it came to reading and writing. One of my earliest memories is sitting down with my father, sounding out and learning to recognize the word “the”. I would also use the margins of my coloring books to spell out words. As I grew older, towards the end of my elementary school years and into middle school, writing became the forefront of my learning, as a way to cope with how my culture was changing outside of school.

My attitudes and beliefs about culture in the classroom are that every single student is unique in their own way. When I am designing my lesson plans, I need to keep in mind that every student learns differently. Some are text-based learners, some are audio learners, some are visual learners, and some are vocal learners, all of which are influenced by one’s culture. For example, I am a text-based and vocal learner, based on my own culture, whereas one of my brothers is an audio learner, based on his culture. Each learner is shaped by their experiences both in- and outside of school. As an educator, it is my responsibility to keep that in mind while dealing with student issues (i.e. not handing an assignment in on time or perhaps the student wrote it green ink or pencil as opposed to blue or black ink). With some students I should just be grateful that they turned in anything at all, due to the fact that there may be extenuating circumstances at home or because they simply did not know any differently. Maybe the reason that paper they handed in was hand-written instead of typed because they do not have a computer at home, and maybe their parents cannot afford one.

These beliefs may differ for someone from a different culture because their own culture shaped them, including their attitudes and beliefs in the classroom. A teacher from a middle- or upper-class family may take points off of a paper that was handwritten instead of typed, because they believe that every home does, or should, have a home computer. And, if that student did not have a computer at home, then they should have budgeted extra time outside of class to go to a computer lab and type it. What they may not take the time to realize or understand is that this student could be from a poor or working-class family. Consequently, not only could the student’s family not afford a personal computer at home, but the student could not take the extra time away from school to go to the school computer lab because they have to get home and take care of five kids and clean the house while their parents are both at work.

Culture plays a huge role in the classroom and how teachers and students may view one another. In most cases, issues or cultural differences go unnoticed or unaddressed. For example, during one semester of service learning, I learned that in Vietnamese culture, it is considered disrespectful for a student to speak out, to look someone in the eye, that talking for the sake of it is considered conceited, and that they should never challenge their elders or figures of authority. I also learned that they are rarely on time for things, because they do not want to seem too anxious. A teacher who is unfamiliar with these cultures may not know that these are culture norms, and may view an Asian student in their class as quiet, struggling, non-participating, lazy or disrespectful, which could jeopardize a student’s grade. The student in return may feel confusion and resentment towards not only the teacher, but school in general.

All in all, one must realize the great role that culture plays in shaping everyday life and education. In order to do this, one must first determine his/her culture, and its components, and then look beyond. A student, who seems to stand out in their behavior or learning, perhaps is not flawed, but simply has a different fingerprint.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Frame of Reference

As a student and maturing adult, I have honestly never given much thought to what I believed urban areas to be like. It was not until given the assignment to write my own frame of reference regarding this concept that I actually did sit down and think about it. The more I thought about it and made a list of what came to mind, the more I began to wonder where such thoughts, ideas, and feelings came from. I usually do not pay attention to stereotypes, but did I really think these things? If so, what influenced these ideas? More importantly, how would they influence my interactions with the particular individuals I would encounter in urban communities and schools?

So what exactly did I believe about urban areas? To start with, urban communities always seem to be located in or around big cities. These areas are run-down and dirty, and graffiti runs rampant. Most of the population that lives in these communities consists of mainly non-Caucasian, low-income, and often times “broken”, families. The schools in these communities are severely under-funded, and lack the most basic school supplies and resources, such as textbooks and elective courses. These schools also have high-drop out rates and conflict is everywhere. The teachers in urban schools need to be tough and firm in their discipline, and recognize that a conventional method of teaching in a lot of cases does not work for the students in urban areas, and educators must resort to unconventional and creative methods instead. However, some teachers are only there for the increase in the pay scale. The students are apathetic about their education, being mainly concerned with their lives outside of the classroom. Many are involved in gang activity, and many females deal with teenage pregnancy and motherhood. It also appears that students in urban schools resent teachers in the classroom and feel a need to establish a sense of dominance and superiority.

But where did these ideas originate, for they were certainly not created on my own. In reality, they are years in the making and have been shaped by a couple of external factors. The most obvious influence would be that of my surroundings as I was growing up. I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and lived there for the first twenty-four years of my life. I knew early on that Orlando’s urban communities paled in comparison to those of other cities in the country, particularly Compton, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta, and the New York City boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, but they were still areas that should be avoided if possible. In Orlando, there was Paramore, which was located in the western part of downtown, and there was Oakridge, located just outside of the city limits to the southwest. Entering into these areas was like entering a different world. Many houses were in need of serious repair, whether or not they were occupied or vacant. Lawns were rarely mowed. Buildings were boarded up or condemned everywhere you looked, assuming they were not collapsing. People were always roaming the streets or sitting on their porches, seemingly with no agenda. Most were either African-American or Hispanic. The schools in these areas were known to be rough, and the majority of the student population attended Jones, Evans, or Oakridge High School. Some of my peers who lived within the aforementioned school districts would purposely enroll in magnet programs at other high schools in the Orange County school district, just so they would not have to attend one of those three…even if they had no real interest in that magnet program’s area of study. Sadly, as far as my peers and I were concerned (based on our already formed “urban” notions) the only good things that came out of any of those high schools were a good half-time show by their marching band and a few good athletes, but certainly nothing involving academics.

Another factor that assisted in shaping my perceptions on urban areas was that of popular culture, specifically movies. I came into contact with a few movies at one of my most impressionable ages (approximately ages thirteen to fifteen) that had major influences on what I would come to view as “urban”. Those movies were Dangerous Minds, Sister Act 2, and Save the Last Dance. Although the storylines of those three movies were all different, collectively they helped set the tone. In all three, the main character, a single female, was thrust into an urban community and school, to encounter urban life. The other students at these schools were mostly non-Caucasian, apathetic, and seemed to have more important things to worry about other than school and being a successful student. Some were involved with gangs and had to worry about staying alive. Some female students were pregnant or were already teenage mothers, who had to worry about who would be able to watch their children while they were at school. Some had to work for a living in order to survive or help their struggling families. The presence of many types of conflicts were also addressed in these films: teacher versus administration and colleagues, teacher versus student, teacher versus parent, student versus parent, and student versus student. The fact that these movies were set in different parts of the country (west coast, southwest, and east coast), in different types of schools (public and private), and the difference in the main characters (one is a Caucasian student, one is a Caucasian who is a former Marine, and the third is an African-American who is a former entertainer) told me that it does not matter where you are, who or what you are, or what you used to be, this is what an urban school is and this is what urban students are like.

Based on my beliefs and how they were shaped, I can only assume how I may interact with the teachers and students I will be working with. I am sure that I will proceed with caution and curiosity. I know that stereotypes are more often wrong than not. I will not know student’s circumstances, at least not at first, surrounding their lives outside of the classroom, and how that influences their learning ability and education. I will want to take great care in how I deal with students, trying my best not to offend anyone, and I will want to try and gain a sense of what each student faces when they exit the classroom at the end of the day. In regards to teachers, I will be curious to know their motive for teaching in an urban school. Is it because they actually want to have an impact on these students’ lives, or is it just because the pay is better? I will also be curious to know how they structure their lesson plans to accommodate their students’ needs.

When structuring my own classroom and thinking about how these assumptions will relate to the type of professional I hope to be, I will need to keep a few things in mind. I will need to be aware that my class is full of diversity. Each student is different and each student’s circumstances are different. They will come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and perhaps English is their secondary language and not spoken at home. Students will have different levels and types of literacies, and will come from different financial backgrounds. With these things in mind, I will need to be understanding and flexible as an educator. If I believe a student to be struggling, or one that needs a little extra help, I need to be willing to make adjustments for them. I will also need to understand that things come up in life that cannot be controlled, and a student may need an extra day to turn something in. I want students to know that they do not have to fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is only through self-examination that I was able to realize my beliefs about urban communities, schools, teachers, and students, and where these beliefs originated. It is due to a combination of my own life experiences and popular culture, and I need to take the time to restructure these beliefs, for they are in fact assumptions. Only by doing so will I be capable of interacting effectively with the teachers and students I will encounter in urban areas, obtain a broader scope of what these individuals face on a daily basis, and better prepare myself as a future educator.