Much ado is being made about age these days. Maybe it’s my own resentment of being a digital pioneer, and constantly being reminded I’m in charge of training children for jobs that don’t exist yet (for Pete’s sake, it’s not like I’m asking them to be farriers or corset-stay carvers!) At the NCCE, included in one lecture’s description was “NOT YOUR PARENTS’ TEXTBOOK!” which, yes, using the “o” word — offended me a tad. And not only am I playing a shoddy offense but defense as well. In this political climate my sons’ generation is constantly maligned: labeled entitled, privileged, whiny, and naive. My friend John Spencer gets it. VSauce has a great video about “Juvonoia,” the idea that younger generations are lame.
So I suppose if those younger than I are a bit miffed and allow for casual ageism to creep into the conversations, I must try not to cast my own disapproving glare.
But ageism is actually quite horrifying. We’re all living longer, and creating a world where each generation gets a little smarter (thank you unleaded gasoline!) and a bit more savvy with all these critical thinking skills we’ve been touting. We’re creating awesome smart monsters humans. And while young folks may think of us as “elders” in their capitulating apologies, it has very real consequences.
Yes, young woman, you are contributing quite a bit. But over-40s are not quite “elders” yet.
So why does this get to me? Perhaps because it has an ‘ism’ at the end. “Ism’s” connote binary decision making: yes or no, black or white, up or down. Ageism is permission to assume someone cannot learn something about anything, but usually, especially technology, because they are old. Is it as bad as racism? I can’t make that claim. Its consequences may mean someone doesn’t get hired, so while we elders are trying to pay for our millennials’ college, we also can’t save for retirement. This article feels like a biography. Ageism decreases opportunity and allows for mocking on good days, and discrimination on bad. There’s that binary thinking again.
So, tiny examples: if I see something cool, guess what I do? I try to figure out how it was done. One of my little goals right now is to create gif doodles. Believe it or not, I can’t find any good tutorials, and this is making me feel a bit doddy. But they’re so cool! Not as cool as the Silicon Valley holographic mustache, but still…
Is there something you’d like to learn how to do? Can anyone help me with this? I’ve fallen in a gif and can’t get up!
Innocently a young colleague, not much older than my eldest son, asked me if I had seen ‘Force Awakens,’ and if I liked it.
Never believe that asking a simple question to an English-teacher-quasi-nerd-fan-girl-turned-Jedi-master-saw-original-Star-Wars-changed-life is going to produce a simple answer.
I hesitated, and he said, “Oh no.” He knew.
So…hesitated, and responded: “I learned that ‘Star Wars’ is our cultural entry, our collective consciousness doorway, to providing accessible analysis of narrative.” Or something to that effect.
Basically: it’s our doorway to being able to discuss literature/narrative, in an informed, impassioned and to us, when we’re discussing plot, character, story arc, decisions, we own it, we create and recreate, and we feel smart. And when we feel smart, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, success is inherent. And nothing succeeds like success.
Think about it: when my husband and I left the Cinerama(our boys having seen the film: older one not in love with Star Wars, in fact hates it, younger one loved it and shared the Belated Media clips below–more on that later) we both knowingly rolled our eyes at each other, and waited until we were out of earshot of other fans to dissect Kylo Ren’s character, plot points, comparisons, and develop our own fan theories. My husband leans toward Star Trek, I sit on the Star Wars side, but somehow we manage to still love each other. This huge epiphany slammed my noggin like a tri-chappe lightsaber: Star Wars doesn’t have to be good, high art, elitist cinema or literature: its value is in our ability to want to own it, and its simple story is its beauty of accessibility.
This is why–oh so very, very why–it’s important to understand how to open that door for our students.
And do not — DO NOT — get your “teacher” all over it.
If you use Minecraft, don’t add a learning target.
If you use Dr. Who, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, don’t put a standard anywhere near it.
If you talk about Journey of the Hero, unreliable narrators, game lore, Dungeons and Dragons, or the poetry of the songs from your youth, be the Obi-Wan to their padawan, and allow them to be the Jedi Master when teaching you about what’s important to them. If you’ve ever spoken to a Whovian, you will be thoroughly schooled in all things Dr. Who.
Allow yourself to be the dork once in awhile. Show them the passion and excitement you have when you talk about a movie you love, or characters you feel like you know personally. I have no shame in telling students I cried when I found out Alan Rickman passed away. If you can watch the scene between Dumbledore and Snape when Snape reveals his motivation (no spoilers…just in case)…then you may need to check for your humanity. Back to Star Wars: a young female colleague told me she thought Rey was better than Leia. Oh, smart lady, please don’t make me bring up context and constraints of time periods.
We fans of fiction, games, lore, and the accessible story unite in pure love of the conversation.
All I can say about that.
Anyway, my colleague showed this to me — so fun to watch fan theories:
JarJar? Master Wizard?
And my younger son shared this series with me and my husband, and we loved them: (there may be some language: apologies).
I have wakeful insomnia when my husband goes to bed anytime between 12:50-1:15 am. Aside from being grounds for divorce (JUSTKIDDINGIAMSODAMNTIRED), thought I would open up my brain to see what also is stirred up that prevents me from getting back to sleep. Be warned. It’s not safe.
What do I think about between 1 and 3 am?
The student whose mother left.
The student whose mother died.
The student who has a concussion and can’t attend to discussions.
Wondering if I was too ambitious in my unit.
The students who send me emails they turned something in.
The students with Fs.
The students with As.
How I need to exercise more.
How my son is doing.
If my husband’s new job will work out.
If I will ever write a little fiction.
If our puppy will ever be rid of her demodex.
If our older dog will ever stop barking at the puppy.
If my older son is going to be okay with a Math Minor/Russian/German majors.
If the kitchen will be cleaned (it wasn’t, and won’t be).
If the ceiling is going to cave in.
If I’ll be able to get the bathrooms redone. (And what is that black spot under the flooring?)
If I’ll be able to finish the book club book before next week.
Recently I applied to the PSED position as a teacher/blogger voice, and no, didn’t make the cut. The e-mail is privacy protected, but I don’t think it would harm to say they had ‘other candidates that more suited their needs.” Dang. Now that makes me think two things:
*What am I doing wrong? (And, what am I doing right?)
Being rejected hurts, and I seem to take it on the glass chin sometimes. Maybe it’s because my husband is currently looking for another position, (and in his field he is always job hunting), he must received scores of rejections every time he has to hit the pavement. We as a couple do our best to analyze the situation, make pragmatic course adjustments, and carry on. And, honestly, we take turns at who gets to feel in the dumps. But I need to take a page from his playbook and thicken my skin. Which leads me to my next resolution:
2. Keep striving for professional excellence: if I am at the point in my career where I’m starting to feel restless, ambitious, and needing a challenge, then I am not going to be falsely modest. It’s okay to want to grow.
3. Package my good lessons/units into shared items, and get them on TpT.
Ah, Winter Break…a time to catch up on media and mischief, and perhaps…have too much time to think. My dangerous questions are: “Are some learning and engagement strategies inherently biased? Do they try too hard to be inclusive and diverse, or do they not try hard enough? Where are we on this pendulum, anyway?” The question arose when I read this article from NPR by Joe Palca, ‘Hip-hop Vocal: The Lexicon Is In the Lyrics.” What struck me was Austin Martin’s insight about his time spent in school:
Although he’s in an Ivy League college now, Martin says that he struggled in school. He was smart, but he says the things he was really intellectually curious about weren’t valued in the classroom.
I wonder what exactly does that mean, “weren’t valued in the classroom?” I’m not questioning his memory –far from it–what I am wondering is how do we know, as students, when we’re not being valued? Was there a direct put-down to his love of music and sports, did a teacher disparage him somehow? Was his pedagogical experience so bland and dry it left no quarter for personal passions? And that made me think, did I ever have a chance to express personal interests in school? Okay, yes, I analyzed “Money” by Pink Floyd in English class, but I certainly wasn’t hanging with the AP crowd. What place do our personal passions play with our knowledge building, and are we using ‘diversity’ as a new brush to paint everything in one color, yet again? If the majority of students are from a range of diverse backgrounds, does that then make everyone homogenous?
His reflection about himself as a teenage student says:
“I knew every last thing there was to know about hip-hop and basketball,” he says. He could tell you incredibly detailed facts about rappers and NBA players.
Perhaps most of us could think of things we loved as teenagers, but our teachers certainly didn’t have the time or inclination to broach us about those passions. Were they supposed to? Well, sure, sometimes perhaps…to that end, Martin created a program that encompasses rap and vocabulary building:
The program is called Rhymes with Reason. He’s using rap lyrics to teach vocabulary, in the hope that some will connect more to popular music than they do to static words on a page.
This undergrad isn’t the first to think of using hip-hop in the classroom to engage students. The Hip-Hop Education Center, founded by New York University professor Martha Diaz, lists hundreds of programs that use hip-hop culture as a teaching tool.
And yes, I agree with the thesis of the piece, “So why not tap into that enthusiasm to help kids like him, who might be turned off by traditional schoolwork?” Yes, why not indeed–trying to find what will engage students is our educational nirvana. But ‘tapping in’ should not mean assuming all kids like the same things (like kids from ‘diverse’ schools all like basketball and rap: we need to do some code-switching here).
But who’s to say what traditional is, anyway? How are we currently defining multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive and engaging texts?
One way I spend my time is to look at new titles, and fortunately so does the district. This year they purchased The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which is a considered a Verse genre, meaning, it’s poetic/rap structure. Aside from taking the time to study Russian Formalism and consider that structure makes the meaning, it’s a great book rich with textual context, discussion opportunities, etc. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit with my content areas this year, and this summer I researched other multi-cultural books. And, unfortunately again, there may not be any funds to add some great historical fiction pieces to my curriculum.
I wonder though, because my school is one of the most diverse in the district, do people assume that every kid loves basketball and hip-hop, ascribing some generalization that…and this is where it gets scary…leads to micro-aggressive bias? Because that’s not the case. There are kids who love One Direction, Justin Bieber, and kids who love soccer, or football, or gaming, or Manga, or Haka dancing or dubstep, Anime, Minecraft, and inclusive not only in the color of their skins or nationalities, embrace things that are purely, sparkly, what being an American teenager is now. They like stuff, not necessarily racial identities. Or rather, including their racial identities as part of their growth into individuals. But they do like stuff: cell phones know no boundaries or backgrounds. There are boys who stare at their computer screens for hours looking at shoes, and girls who read Tumblr and follow feminist discussions. And two things they all have in common: they want the best education their teachers can offer, and build their knowledge and agency, and they want relevancy. The shadowy side is teenagers still bully each other over the most superficial of behaviors, with terrible consequences, which is why I would love to know more about how Martin felt or knew he wasn’t being valued (did a teacher bully or mock him?).
On another note: While I don’t agree with this article, it may shock some to find out that anytime one group feels defined by another there will be push-back. (This article has plenty of push-back.) I’m linking it with some hesitation, but it is in the discomfort of defining personal identity that may be a the kernel of the diversity truth.
Teachers know that students learn in different ways; the experience in the classroom confirms this every day. In addition, well-accepted theories and extensive research illustrate and document learning differences. Most educators can talk about learning differences, whether by the name of learning styles, cognitive styles, psychological type, or multiple intelligences. Learners bring their own individual approach, talents and interests to the learning situation.
Growing up, the only edgy writer I was exposed to was Judy Blume. I had to seek and find other writers on my own. There wasn’t enough discussion and exposure to writers with multiple perspectives and voices, not in the least. Heck, I came from the dark ages when folks still believed Columbus was a hero. And this is an ‘and’ not a ‘but’ — and, I am spending my life making up for lost time, but still loving Judy Blume’s role in my life, too.
Back to my curriculum issue: I wish I could have students compare the narratives between Octavian Nothing and Sophia’s War. In Sophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution, Avi brushes by the plight of slaves in joining the British forces, but that’s not the theme of the book. In Octavian Nothing, M.T. Anderson never mentions little Boston white girls whose brothers are sent to prison ships. But that also its not its job. However, it’s our jobs as educators to be knowledge and present the sides as best as we can, and have students make connections. What would I tell my students from India or Russia? They may not be represented in those stories at all–but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading. Diversity is not niche adaptation, but variety and knowledge strength.
So why ‘the paradox of diversity?’ Because it seems the more educators try to be diverse the more it becomes cookie-cutter. There is no perfect purple unicorn that answers everyone’s diverse backgrounds, and that’s for the best. Keep your eyes and mind open, don’t be embarrassed about your own journey and background, and read everything.