Chapter One This We Believe with an Urban Focus Author and Editor: Diane Ross, Ph.D.- Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio Co-authors: Jennifer Gledhill- Middle Childhood Education Student, Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio Angie Jackson- Middle Childhood Teacher, Columbus Public Schools, Columbus, Ohio Reggie Jackson- Memphis, Tennessee Al Labarre- Middle Childhood Teacher, Columbus Public Schools, Columbus, Ohio Vonzia Phillips- Director of Middle Schools, Decatur, Georgia Jeannette Pillsbury-Asst. Professor in Teacher Education at Luther College Yolanda Stewart- Middle Childhood Education Instructor, Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio Melissa Welsh- Middle Childhood Teacher, Columbus Public Schools, Columbus, Ohio Lynnly Wood- Middle Childhood Education Doctoral Candidate, University of Miami, Miami, Ohio
National Middle School Association
This We Believe with an Urban Focus Introduction
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the 33rd National Middle School Association Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. While there, I saw John Loundsbury speak. This I Believe was the topic of his presentation. I sat, surrounded by 10,000 middle school teachers from across the world, 200 middle school teacher candidates from across the nation, 16 middle school teacher candidates from my institution, and my colleague and mentor John Swaim. Surrounded by middle childhood visionaries and those eager to grab hold of the vision, was pure ecstasy. Watching this icon of a man, John Loundsbury, talk about the middle school movement and his life-long values and beliefs was awe inspiring. Whether you were John Loundsbury, one of the forefathers of the middle school movement; Tom Mossbarger, a middle childhood teacher candidate; or the12-year-old middle school student introducing Ron Clark, the Disney teacher of the year… the passion and commitment to the 14 tenets found in This We Believe was palpable. The shared vision was crystal clear and the hope of better education for young adolescents in the future seemed gloriously promising.
Yet, as I work in urban areas with middle school teachers, students, and teacher candidates, that passion and vision seems murky. Urban teachers I have met who read This We Believe and many other National Middle School Association publications, are excited by what they are reading. For many of them, this is their first introduction to middle school philosophy. They are amazed to hear about new research on young adolescent development and are challenged by the unique concepts of student voice and integrated curriculum models presented. However, the phrase that I continue to hear over and over again from these teachers as well as from administrators in these schools is, “These ideas are wonderful, but you are not talking about my students or my school.” What I hear from many urban teachers is that they do not see themselves, their students, their schools, or their neighborhoods reflected in many of the discussions, examples, case studies, and conference presentations about best practice in the middle school. There are those in the industry who may disagree with this view and find many examples of urban schools in middle school publications. The important thing for me is that there is a recurring perception by many urban teachers that their voices, their stories, their struggles, and their successes are not being heard. They feel isolated and alone dealing with cultures of poverty, violence, racism, injustice and inequity that pervade our urban schools. And they seem to lack the shared vision and the systemic support necessary to thoroughly and successfully implement the changes in their schools necessary for This We Believe to resonate in their school hallways.
The National Forum for the Acceleration of Middle School Reform claims that there are three areas that must be emphasized for the success of middle schools to be possible: academically challenging curriculum, developmentally responsive schools and socially equitable schools. Over the last 10 years, there has been a huge growth in brain research with a clearer understanding of young adolescent development. We understand with more clarity what it means to be developmentally responsive to young adolescents and are able to pass this on to teachers, teacher candidates, and to parents. In the wake of No Child Left Behind, whether you are in favor of the policy or not, there has been a strong focus on academic growth and curriculum. Yet, as Jonathan Kozol (2005) writes in his new book The Shame of the Nation: Apartheid in America’s Schools, there is a declining emphasis on social justice and equity in our public schools. And, not just has there been less movement towards a more just and equitable educational environment, there has been a steep slide into more inequitable and unjust environments for many students, especially those most at-risk in urban environments. Students of color, immigrants, students where English is a second language and students with low socioeconomic background, many of who are located in urban environments, are those most at-risk of not achieving in our public schools today.
Some may rightfully questions whether linking urban schools with cultures of poverty, violence, and racism is creating a deficit model for our urban students. It is not my intent to create that image. However, what I hear from urban teachers and educational researchers is that there is statistical reality to many of these connections. What I also know is that to bring out the misperceptions and possible myths in these assumptions will allow for the growth in the vision of the unactualized possibilities (Roy, 2003, p.1) To teach, and especially in an urban setting, is to recognize that our work is full of cracks and fissures. It is a challenging journey. But as one of my teacher candidates said, “The most important thing to remember is that there are beautiful flowers growing out of those cracks in the sidewalks.”
Researchers like Jonathan Kozol who visited nearly 60 schools in 11 states in the past five years, supports this statistical reality, when he notes that the level of segregation today is higher than at any other time since 1968. His book is a fierce indictment of segregation, funding inequalities, and the drill-and-kill curricula that are heavily promoted in schools that serve low-income students and students of color. Gary Orfield, working with the Harvard Civil Rights Project, states that fifty years after the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal schools across the country are still separated by race and class. And the problem is getting worse
Segregated minority schools are overwhelmingly likely to have to contend with the educational impacts of concentrated poverty- 50% or more of the student population eligible for free or reduced lunch. White segregated schools are almost always middle class. The legacy of unequal education, income, and the continuing patterns of housing discrimination continues. In the 1970’s African Americans were 16 percent of total enrollment but 38 percent of students identified as mentally retarded. More than 20 years later…African American children constitute 17 percent of total enrollment and 33 percent of students considered cognitively disabled (mentally retarded) Nationwide, Blacks are more than three times more likely to be identified as mentally retarded than whites and more than twice as likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed. They are 67 percent more likely than whites with emotional or behavioral problems to be removed from school on the grounds of being dangerous. Blacks are more than three times as likely as whites to be given short-term suspensions Perry, Steele, Hilliard, 2003).
In the 1960’s wake of school desegregation we saw the most dramatic narrowing of the test score gap ever recorded for Blacks and whites. In the 1990’s, racial gaps in achievement have been growing and the high school graduation of Black students is decreasing. Enrollment of minority students at a number of our most prestigious public universities has dropped alarmingly. Three hundred and fifty African American freshmen enrolled at the University of Michigan out of an entering class of almost 6,000 students-the lowest number of African Americans in 15 years and a decline from nearly 500 three years earlier. (Ferguson, 2006)
In addition to this growing chasm in our schools, we are challenged, as teacher educators to meet national standards of teacher preparation and prepare teachers that are socially just and equitable in their practice. Under new National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)/National Middle School Association (NMSA) standards, effective February 14, 2001, middle childhood educators in the United States are for the first time asked to give evidence of dispositions of middle level teacher candidates. Standard one in particular, Young Adolescent Development, asks that, “Middle level teacher candidates understand the major concepts, principles, theories, and research related to young adolescent development, and they provide opportunities that support student development and learning” (http://www.ncate.org/standard/programstds.htm, February, 14. 2003). The assessment of this standard is based upon the following criteria:
Candidates must respect and appreciate the range of individual developmental differences of all young adolescents. Believe that diversity among all young adolescents is an asset. They must use this knowledge to provide all young adolescents with learning opportunities that are developmentally responsive, socially just and equitable, and academically rigorous. (http://www.ncate.org/standard/programstds.htm, February 14, 2003).
The problem for many middle childhood teacher educators is that what is meant by socially just and equitable is left undefined and problematic. NMSA/NCATE leaves the task of defining and providing evidence that teachers actually exhibit this disposition to the teacher education unit and ultimately to middle childhood teacher educators.
Preparing teachers for social justice and equity in their work is compounded by what the literature tells us about middle childhood teacher candidates in relation to dispositions related to social justice and equity.
They do not believe that racism is a problem (Moultry, 1988; Goodlad, 1990). They go into teaching for reasons other than changing society to make it more just and equitable (Ginsburg & Newman, 1985; Goodlad, 1990; National Center for Education Information data 1996).
That while most teachers are White and middle class and an increasingly greater number of school age children are from a diversity of backgrounds, teacher candidates do not believe that Whiteness is a culture. Therefore, candidates are not able to self-reflect on their own status as privileged White persons, thus furthering status differences and inequities in the educational structure (Schwartz, 1996, Bradfield-Kreider, 2001; Carpenter, 2000).
They are resistant to changing beliefs of any sort that they bring into teaching, particularly beliefs that are imposed on them (Bradfield-Kreider, 2001; Carpenter, 2000; Dewey, 1938; Goodlad, 1990; Ginsburg & Newman, 1985; Howard, 1999; Jipson, 1995; Titus, 2000; MacIntosh, 1989; Moultry, 1988; Simpson, 1992; Sobel &Taylor, 2001; Strike & Posner, 1992; Tatum, 1992; Pohan & Mathison, 1999).
Taking the statistical evidence of the culture of urban schools, adding to that the evidence of the dispositions of middle childhood teacher candidates leads me to want to pursue this project.
I believe that social justice and equity in middle level classrooms will not be possible, especially in urban settings, until urban educators, teacher educators, and teacher candidates can discuss the struggles, the barriers, and the exemplars of meeting these tenets in this context. For urban teachers, the context of who they are, who their students are, what content they are asked to teach, and what societal norms and values they are working in must be juxtaposed against the overall issues in urban settings of racism, poverty, and violence. The purpose of this book is to provide a forum for this reflection and discussion to occur among urban teachers, teacher candidates, teacher educators, and students. The hope is that new insights and visions will be developed by the participants, so the possibility of schools that are socially just and equitable for all students can come closer to being actualized.
Hannah Arendt, said, "For excellence, the presence of others is always required." (1958, p. 50). In this project, urban middle childhood teacher educators, teachers, and teacher candidates and students will be asked to share their perspectives and their stories as well as to engage in a dialogue around these stories so that the stories are not just told but are challenged and discussed so as to be catalytic, educative, and dialogic. The hope is that we can affirm each other through stories and struggles and at the same time to inspire each other to go beyond those stories. It is the hope that in this project, stories can create communities (Greene, 1988).
One of the most important parts of this project is the dialogic process. The belief in this process comes out of my work in the qualitative research field of Moustakas’ (1990) heuristic methodology. Heuristic methodology is the combination of autobiography and phenomenology as well as the use of case studies (Moustakas, 1990). Moustakas claims that one comes to understand something more fully by relationships formed by a particular researcher with a particular set of people in a particular time and place. To truly know something one must come to know themselves through introspection as well as a connection to others (Moustakas, 1990). I believe that teachers will learn more about the phenomenon of teaching for social justice and equity through dialogue with others sharing a similar experience (Beckstrom, 1993). The purpose of this project is to provide a venue for urban middle childhood teachers, teacher candidates, and students to share their stories, their struggles, and their successes working to create effective middle schools as defined by the 14 tenets in This We Believe.
My first attempt at this project was to have a group of urban middle school teachers and teacher candidates who had finished their methods experience in an urban setting, share their stories of how they saw each of the 14 tenets play out in their schools. I asked them what they saw as barriers and struggles to reaching the vision of the middle school concept. I asked them to share their successes and visions of the possibilities in their teaching. We then presented This We Believe with an Urban Focus together at a number of state and national conferences. What is more evident to me than ever at this point is that it was not material that we gathered that was important but rather it was the process of gathering and sharing that was catalytic and educative for all of us. When urban middle childhood teachers, teacher candidates, teacher educators and students dialogued with each other and challenged each other, the possibility of the vision was created. When we presented, we knew that we were successful not because of the material that we shared but because of the dialogue that was encouraged and the relationships that were advanced among and between the conference participants and presenters. After our last presentation, I became clearer than ever as to what this book’s purpose and format should be.
In our presentation at the National Middle School Association Annual Conference in Nashville this year, we had 12 presenters and about an equal number of participants. The power and energy in that room was amazing. Thirsty souls had been given water. The stories told had common grounds to be heard and responded to. Heads nodded, eyes, flashed, voices were heard.
We must help teachers grasp their students’ reality so that they can you understand their values.
We have to develop meaningful relationships with students.
We need educators who value working with these students.
Minority teachers raised in suburbia face the same culture shock and ill preparedness as the 80% white teacher population
This is not a race thing but a class thing.
African American teachers are compared to the students' parents.
White teachers are nitpicked for weaknesses.
The achievement gap has to do with having high expectations...our students are not allowed to rack up zeroes.
We need better backing from backing from administrators… this is the only way to survive in our schools.
We need courageous collaborative leadership.
We need fearless leadership.
These teachers and teacher educators not only listened and talked about their experiences in urban settings but a number of people from that group wanted to continue the dialogue about the middle school concept in their buildings and their struggles and concerns. There was a charge of excitement in this room. For many of these teachers, the wonderful components of the middle childhood concept were being discussed and they could see their students and their schools reflected in this conversation. They began to see, in sharing with others, new possibilities for their work. It was after that meeting that a group of urban middle childhood teachers, teacher candidates, teacher educators, and students from across the nation agreed to dialogue online about the This We Believe with an Urban Focus.
Conceptually this project is based on Maxine Green’s (1988) philosophical belief that teaching is constantly a process becoming. This constant constructing of new realities and identities happens over time, through different encounters, and in different contexts. Greene reminds us that we must be aware of the situatedness of meaning, our own subjectivities, and our own multiple and often contradictory identities. She embraces Dewey's (1932) idea of a community in the making. Not that there is a community, but community is always in the making: through dialogue, through doing things together, through shared concern, identifying something that is shared that can move you to some kind of action. The community of learners that Maxine Greene refers to occurs through constant negotiation and re-negotiation. For Greene, human nature is made, not fixed, and the vision of a decent world serves to extend people's notion of the possible. In Greene’s notion of becoming there is an implicit motive not just to become any kind of teacher educator but to become a socially conscious, culturally relevant, teacher educator who teaches for social justice and equity.
Those possibilities exist only in relation and commitment to others and a commitment to providing socially just and equitable learning opportunities for all in an unjust world. Greene (1988) suggests that what we seek is teaching as dialogue, teaching as resistance to the status quo, teaching as action toward freedom. Greene’s notion of philosophy as a noun transformed into a verb requires one, "to take the risk of thinking about what he is doing … to become progressively more self-conscious about the choices he makes and the commitments he defines … and to examine critically the principles underlying what he thinks and what he says" (Greene, 1973, preface). This goal of this project is not to define what social justice and equity looks like or how one can become this but rather seeks to support the voices of urban teachers in their constant struggle to teach in a more socially just and equitable way. By providing a place for this dialogue, in this book, the goal is to encourage each person to tell their own stories from their own perspectives and in the telling to find new understandings.
What is important is what in each of us is seeking expression, and what is different about us is how each of us expresses that. This project affirms that there is not one way to discover the answers to the questions of how to provide best practice in a middle childhood urban classroom. Nor is there one answer to this question. But, rather, the multiplicity of voices and stances that these questions will the decisions that affect their lives, is to notice that while we experience our problems as personal they are truly social. I began to realize that the only way that I would find answers to these questions was to immerse myself with others in the process of becoming through dialogue and moral relationships.
One’s identity is continuously emergent, recreated and reconstituted as one moves through the network of relationships with others. The self is not defined by the self but is relational. The dialogic condition of this research centers on the importance of the relationship between self and others, teacher and students, students and the environment (Gergen, 2001, Green, 1988).
I think that the most important component of this project is its design. This book will be a process of becoming for all the participants involved. The co-authors in the book include middle childhood teachers and teacher candidates that I have worked with for years as well as middle childhood teachers, teacher educators, and school administrators who heard about this book and have committed to spending the next six months in dialogue with each other.
The construction of this book happened over a six month time period. After having a group of teachers, teacher educators, teacher candidates, and administrators eagerly agree to work together, I constructed on online forum. With this online discussion board, I chose one tenet from This We Believe to post each month. I asked each person to agree to post once a week and to respond to someone once a week as well looking for clarifications and posing challenging questions.
One of the beliefs that surround this project is that telling your story is essential but not sufficient. The importance of hearing the voices of those in the field has been recognized as essential to a true understanding of middle childhood education in an urban setting. However, in this project, the goal is greater. The goal is to take people beyond their stories. These co-authors agreed also to be confronted with some of their own myths and misconceptions so as to be forced to consider new possibilities and new perceptions of their problems and their situations. Co-authors were asked to be reflective and engage in a professional dialogue and personal growth.
At the end of six months, the dialogue that was presented was synthesized and analyzed so as to look for common themes and new insights. Each of the 14 tenets in This We Believe is presented in each of the consecutive chapters, not from one voice but from many voices. The goal of this analysis is to look for strong exemplars of the 14 tenets in urban settings, common barriers to implementing these, and the possibilities and path to change. Each chapter will work to have a strong voice but a voice of a shared and common vision. We have been mesmerized but the likes of wonderful urban teachers like Ron Clarks, Marva Collins, Jonathan Kozol, Erin Gruwell…all of whom should be honored and celebrated for their work in urban school settings. We look at them with awe and often bewilderment and wonder how our voices can ever be that strong. The problem with this picture is that these are amazing and marvelous people who are individually impacting their students. What is needed though is not the individual voice but the community of voices and the shared vision that is called for in This We Believe. What this book hopes to do is to join the voices of those teachers and who have felt isolated and unheard and to provide a model for the possibility of a multicultural community working together in to solve the problems of urban education. At the Africentric School in Columbus, Ohio, the following mission is found on their website.
The Nguzo Saba
The Nguzo Saba is based on customs and traditions of African societies and is, as Karenga states, "a weapon, a shield, and a pillow of peace." The Nguzo Saba consists of seven principles, which embrace both spiritual and scientific concepts. The seven principles of the Nguzo Saba are:
UMOJA (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
KUJICHAGULIA (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined and spoken for by others.
UJIMA (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
UJAMA (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and to profit from them together.
NIA (Purpose): To make as our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
KUUMBA (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.
IMANI (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our parents, our teachers, our people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. (http://www.columbus.k12.oh.us/cas/mission.html)
The challenge of this project is for us to find our Ujima. Through a collective sense of responsibility for those who are being treated with less justice and less equity we can work together from Ohio to Memphis, to Decataur, Georgia to make the problems of urban education in all of these places our problems and to work to solve them together.
I believe if I am to ask others to be vulnerable and personally reflective, I must first be willing to position myself in that dialogue. In the next section, I would like to situation myself in this process and work to clearly state my own struggles to provide urban educators and students equal access to the realization of the shared vision of the middle school philosophy.
In my tape of life growing up, there were things that you did and did not do. Black men did our cars, Black women were our cleaning ladies, and Black people did not swim at my country club or attend my church. My extended family, which is upper class-country- club–new-wealth, instilled in me the importance of proper etiquette and rightness. The mantra in my family was work hard and you will get ahead and people that do not get ahead did not work hard. There was a right way to live your life and a wrong way. Fear was instilled in us lest we choose the wrong way.
I spent my early adulthood on a yo-yo experience of helping others find their path to the good life while wondering whether to forfeit what I believed was my right to the good life, ignoring how my yo-yo life impacted others. After living a life that was safe and well metered, I began to challenge what the good life meant. I played the extreme game. After our huge wedding at the local country club, my husband and I decided that we would no longer attend any event at the country club because it was a racist environment. Red meat was replaced with tofu, Republican with Democratic, Missouri Synod Lutheran with United Church of Christ… I was challenging the tapes in my head and my assumptions. Somehow I knew that those people who were scrubbing dishes in the country club kitchen were working hard and not getting ahead in many ways. As much as I was filled with concern and guilt by these messages in my head, they are my tapes and highly resistant to being erased.
My husband is a social worker and since we were married twenty-six years ago, we have lived our life with a commitment to social justice and equity. We fostered children, worked with illegal refugee children from Nicaragua, worked with adolescent girls and boys from dysfunctional families, worked on suicide hot lines, walked in the Anniversary Martin Luther King Peace March on Washington, worked with Habitat for Humanity, worked on racial reconciliation through our church, and traveled on mission trips to name just a few of our commitments. We exuded commitment to causes. Yet, there was something too conflicted in this life style choice that haunted me then and still does today.
Adopting children was a wonderful experience in my life. I never imagined when my husband and I adopted two Black children that they would help me move my research in this direction. This research process encouraged me to look deep into my soul and ask hard questions about my life with my family and my reasons for my actions. The research process took me away from the stance of doing good to looking at my core soul and the truth of my life with my children. Having a total commitment to your children no matter what color they may happen to be and yet struggling to embrace and celebrate their race, leads me to be conscious of race and tolerance issues in particular ways. I realized that this research process was in part because of them, not for them. Becoming a middle-childhood-teacher-educator who is trying to develop a morality of character, requires that I dig deeply for authentic truths in my life.
The study of intolerance and hate became important to me. The journey to understand this hate and intolerance through direct experience with people and places where this could be examined began years ago. But my reflection on these experiences and their meaning in my life as a teacher educator who puts social justice and equity at the forefront of her practice has been a more recent phenomenon.
Searching to understand these concepts of hate and intolerance led me to have a deep interest in Black History and the Holocaust. I found myself drawn to experience everything I could about these topics in as direct a way as possible. I studied at the International Children's Library in Munich, Germany, and traveled throughout Europe visiting Holocaust sites seeking to discover a better understanding of the Holocaust along the way. I also visited The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, The Martin Luther King Peace Center, New York, Baltimore, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta to explore issues of racism and social justice and equity. I recently spent a month in Austria at the European Peace University teaching a master’s class on social justice and equity in education.
What affected me the most about these trips was the similar responses I received along the way. Wherever I searched out the history of minority oppression or injustice, I was met with fear and skepticism. The vision of a police officer guarding and protecting buildings out of fear of persecution and terrorism, was visible in Germany at Jewish synagogues, in Italy at Jewish community centers and in Alabama at the offices where lawyers and teachers work for social justice and equity.
When visiting institutions that worked for social justice and equity or supported minorities, police officers pulled me aside, checked my bags, asked where I was from, and ran me through metal detectors. Their fear was palpable.Traveling alone, I wondered about the consequences. Should I enter these environments where people were glaringly suspicious of my motives? Should I pass up the opportunity to feel, if only for a fleeting moment, that sense of fear and persecution that Blacks, Jews, and other minorities have felt for centuries? Through this personal experience I knew that I would be changed and that my students and my research would be enriched by this new sense of understanding.
One of the most critical incidents that placed me directly on the path to social justice and equity was my scrutiny of the phenomenon of the Holocaust. Visits to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, the concentration camps of Dachau and Celle, and Hitler’s headquarters at the Wannassee Conference Center in Berlin, all brought the images and the ramifications of social injustice and inequity vividly to the forefront. At the Wannassee Conference Center I encountered Hitler’s plan to exterminate thousands of Jews written on a document in a case on display. Alongside that document was the menu for lunch that day, asparagus and fish. This dichotomy between the horrific and the normal side by side reverberates in my mind.
I am a baptized member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. In Hechingen, Germany, in a Jewish synagogue, I came face to face with the historical truth of my religion. Displayed in a Jewish synagogue, was a picture of Martin Luther herding Jews into ghettoes. Under the picture, there were his words; they are no better than vermin. Like Minnie Pratt (1984), I was working to understand my role as the unknowing majority. I was blinded as to my role in perpetuating the atrocities initiated by this religious icon.I came to question my initial work of combating the injustice perpetuated by others. I deliberated whether to spend my life discussing and exploring the atrocities of the intolerance, or to help build an educational community that was permeated with social awareness and humanity, or to escape and live my life comfortably in my White privileged environment.
Until this time, I had felt my expanding consciousness of oppression as painful but ultimately positive…I groped toward an understanding of injustice done to others, injustice done outside my narrow circle of being, and to folks not like me, I began to grasp, through my own experience of pain, anger, desire for change…Because I was implicated in the doing of some of these injustices, and I held myself, and my people, responsible, what my expanded understanding meant was that I felt in struggle with myself, against myself. This breaking through did not feel like liberation but like destruction. (Pratt, 1984, pp. 35-36)
I am a religious person and I think that my commitment to Christ holds me responsible to some greater good for human kind. Most mainline religious beliefs hold to a sense of humanity and social justice. Yet, this is often dogmatic religion; religion that mediates someone, not something that releases someone. I was raised in a very dogmatic, liturgical, faith. Rules, regulations, and memorization were core elements of this faith. I rewound my past tapes of what was right every Sunday and even trying to release those memories by changing denominations was not effective. As I have been on this journey, I have learned to search to find a deeper and truer sense of spirituality than I had ever had before and to live that life.
I teach at a small Methodist liberal arts institution. I believe that this institution calls us as teacher educators to teach to a greater good for human kind because of its religious affiliation. Yet, I question whether the purpose on my campus is to mediate behavior through service learning or is it about releasing one to work for social justice and equity as a change agent.
My area of study is deeply connected to my religion and my belief in liberation theology. I have spent my life as a Christian who is in search of ways to put that belief system into practice. Christianity for me is an action that develops humane situations for every person, regardless of sex, class, race, social, or economic status. And, in fact one step further, it is the belief system that claims that not just everyone deserves equitable lives but rather to the least should be provided the most.
Readings such as The Heart is a Little to the Left by William Coffin (1999), Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat by Tony Campolo (1995), Marx and the Bible by Jose Miranda (1974), All Men are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi Edited by Krishna Kripalini (1969), and Good News for the Third World by Robert McAfee Brown have all have fed my moral thinking. Search for the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kenneth Smith and Ira G. Zepp (1998) and Robert McAfee Brown's Saying Yes, and Saying No: On Rendering to God and Caesar (1986) are a parts of my study. It is that faith that keeps me going. It is the faith of activists I am talking about (Cherrie Moraga). These authors explored the concept that being spiritually committed involved a response and an action to those commitments. Each of these readings led me to a deeper exploration of the spiritual side of my work and each continued to help me problematize my work within my Christian value system.
I entered this journey of social justice and equity in urban environments with a missionary approach to life. It was my calling to do good for others. Again, much of who I was and what I was occurred outside of myself. It was about others and for others. What I realized through this research is that true spirituality is not in the attendance of church nor in the extraneous intellectual discussions and readings. Rather, only by listening to my inner voice would I find that integration of my soul. I needed to live a life of wholeness in my spirtituality, not in the thinking and the doing but in the being. Tisdell (2003) reminds us that spirituality is not the same as religion but rather it is about honoring the wholeness in our lives that we find spirituality.
The knowledge that I am talking about is not intellectual and analytical but integrative and of the heart, and the choices that lead to wholeness are not pragmatic and calculated, intended to achieve some goal, but simply and profoundly expressive of personal truth (Palmer, 2000, p. 60).
Therefore, as a teacher educator, I must come to some consciousness of my social positionality in society. Typically, social consciousness for White Americans means a better awareness of self-consciousness. Yet, there are those who see this self- consciousness raising process as an excuse for White Americans to think more about themselves. I lived this life of the white privileged so long by doing good deeds from a safe distance. I have realized that I must stop playing the game of the privileged and search deeply for a richer understanding of how my white privileged has affected others negatively. As a White American, I am called to take my blinders off and see my social positioning.
Looking at the statistics of teachers coming into the field shows a declining minority population and a rising student population of color, so I try to make that connection as a White woman with the work of social justice and equity. I must ask why issues of social justice and equity so often fall into the responsibility of the Black community. I wonder why it surprises many that a white woman is searching to understand a culture that is growing in public schools, a population of color. Why then does it surprise many that a White woman searches out a new understanding of culture and life experiences so different than her own? I wonder why do we attempt to distance ourselves from our responsibility that is a part of our history as the White privileged class?
I believe that we (White Americans) have defined what intelligence is, what merit is, what success is and that in itself has disadvantaged those people who have not been able to define what success is for them. I want to question who defines meritocracy, who defines what language counts. Too often we attribute failure to the culture and characteristics of the children rather than to the inherent structure of dominance in the larger society. We need to build schools that build socially just and equitable communities. To do that, schools today need to be a community of learners. So often that is not what we have in schools. We build our schools in a way that we are a bunch of people and not a community. We do not recognize that community of learners is broader than the buildings of schools. A community of learners moves out of the schools and into the local communities and the broader world. When you do not have a community, people can not feel a part of it. Therefore, if we as a society want our children to learn and develop a commitment to the larger society and community as a whole, we must first take pride in a community and its inhabitants ourselves
The hard thing for me is the guilt. Guilt that I am not able or willing to respond with enough veracity to this new truth that I am uncovering. Stifled by guilt takes us to a place of self-reflection. The statement, "We did not choose whether to be White but we can decide how to be White” (Howard, 1999, p. 20), has caused me to reconsider my life.
I must constantly be aware of my position as a privileged White woman throughout my work. This is probably the scariest revelation that I have had through this research. As I have come to understand my role of white privilege better through my interactions in the Black community and with Black teacher educators. After my visitation with a teacher from the Afrocentric School in Columbus, I began to ask myself some really hard questions. Have we [privileged Whites] helped to brainwash Blacks to believe exactly what we have been hoping that you would believe. I wonder why we would change a system that is working so effectively for us. Do I need to perpetuate that system so it continues to be effective for me and for my children? My legacy is that I have been privileged by the opportunities that I have had. I do not think I am a person that intentionally chooses to hurt other people but why would I recognize that. That is really painful and hurtful. Yet, I am challenged by the belief that it would cause me to have to change if I really believed that I could change the injustices and inequities found in urban settings. I continue to move on and keep doing what I have been doing. If I believed it, I would have to change my life style and I have not yet. So I am not going to lie to you and say that I have been out there changing my life because of the things that I have been learning. I wonder if we (Whites) have to perpetuate the system to ensure our own well being and that of our children
I question constantly whether in teacher education there is a commitment to work with those that are most in need: inner city and minority youth? I, along with many other teacher educators, feel that the best and the brightest teachers are needed in this environment; the most creative students are needed to deal with the myriad of situations in this environment. Am I committed to challenge my teacher candidates to be a part of these learning communities? Do I support them in this possibility? Am I committed to challenging my students to consider that a decision to teach in areas of need may be the most beneficial thing to their life? I believe that they might actually find the essence of what it means to live in a way that is congruent with your vocation and your avocation. What better way is there to live your life, your commitments, and your convictions? I realized, through this self-study, that this work is not simple. There are no easy answers but I understand more clearly that I cannot let my guilt shadow or control my actions. I must acknowledge my truth and move to vision and action.
Greene (1973) says, "(you have the)..freedom to decide what sort of person you ought to be" (p. 284). It was here that I began to realize that I had to determine where it was that I stood and what realities I lived. Only then could I come to understand this research for social justice and equity. I had to build that morality of character that I so wanted to see in others. It was here that I began to recognize that it was not by looking to change others that I would attempt to do this research but rather in looking to change myself and how I was to become more socially just and equitable in my practice. I began to understand how essential my investigation was into my impositional nature and my lack of trust in my students to construct their own understanding of this new knowledge about social justice and equity. NCATE may determine the standards and criteria for providing socially just and equitable learning opportunities, yet how teacher educators responded to this standard was much more the question. I began to understand that the standard was not calling pre-service students to change as much as it was demanding that teacher educators change. I must consider becoming a socio-politically conscious practitioner. I must strive to ensure that all pre-service educators reach this standard; yet, how do I, as a teacher educator, acknowledge my own dispositions and how these affect my teaching in a classroom? I began to believe that my students’ successes, pre-service educators, were my only avenue to a quality life as a professional.
When I asked a colleague what I could do with this project she said the following:
You can point out that we [teacher educators working for social justice] are not alone. Sometimes we feel that we are the only one out there that cares. We need to know that there is a community. There is a multicultural community that we seek out. We need to know that there is a community out there that is supporting our work.
The challenge of this project is to highlight for myself and for others what it means to be a middle childhood teacher who shares the vision of This We Believe and sees those tenets as possible and actualized.
Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.