Journal of Educational Controversy


Friday, November 7, 2008

What Did You Do on Nov. 5th?

Whether you were for or against Barack Obama, his election as the 44th President of the United States marks an historic moment of transition in the nation. In response to our issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," we ask you, the teachers of the nation: what were you doing on November 5th? How was the classroom affected by the news? Did you have any activities to take advantage of that teachable moment? What kind of conversations took place? It is incredibly interesting--and telling--to discuss how students reacted to this election. Join in the conversation.


Unknown said...

I teach at a small college in the northeast in a very poor city and county. I teach graduate courses for reading teachers, and the election had a profound impact on us. They are the classroom teachers your article target, and they are hopeful about change.

My classes are very social justice oriented due to the blessed freedom an institution of higher learning gives an instructor. Therefore, we revisited our many previous political discussions and themes, and mainly talked about hope: hope that a real educator might be the Secretary of Education (Linda Darling-Hammond!); hope that NCLB will be revised in strong and meaningful, empowering ways; hope for an equitable funding formula for all of our nations' schools; hope for the restoration of teacher agency and freedom from scripted reading programs and the accompanying script police that come with them; hope for the persons who did some nasty graffiti at our school against Obama to be enlightened and have a change of heart. Thank you for the question. I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

WaTeacher said...

I teach Intermediate level students (ages 8-11)at a small independent school in the Pacific Northwest.

On November 5th, I found myself wondering who can be president? Or, put another way, who can be included and be successful in our classrooms?

I had occasion to consider the issues of eligibility and inclusion. Our read-aloud book on November 5th was, So You Want to Be President (a Caldecott Medal Winner, by Judith St. George), listed presidents by various categories: “Every President was different from every other and yet no woman has been President. No person of color has been President. No person who wasn’t a Protestant or a Roman Catholic has been President. But if you care enough, anything is possible.” (The passage goes onto mention Geraldine Ferraro’s bid for the Vice Presidency.)

Certainly this was a timely passage, given the election of Barack Obama to our nation’s highest office. We discussed this new information and it led us to talk about religion as a barrier yet to be crossed. We listed Jews, Muslims and agnostics/atheists (for instance) as possibilities for future Presidents. While I did not delve more deeply with my students, I think that religion will be the highest hurdle of all; I believe it will take much longer to elect a Muslim or atheist to the office than it will to elect a woman. I found myself thinking of all of the intelligent, thoughtful and otherwise qualified people who will never be considered.

This thought led me to a workshop I attended a few years ago, through our Democratic Schools association with WWU, about diversity. Gary Howard, author of a number of books on the topics of diversity and social justice, led participants through an exercise in assimilation. We began by listing the eight most important components of our identity. These included such things as race, gender, language, religion, job, family, birth place, musical or sports talent, etc.

Then, over the course of half an hour or so, we were asked to cross them off, one by one, until only one was left. For some, this last, most vital piece of the “who” we are, was religious faith. For others, it was family. It could have been language or ethnic affiliation. Howard’s point was that immigrants and other minorities are often expected to leave these important parts of themselves “at the door” when they enter into majority white society in the United States.

He challenged those of us in the room that were educators to ask ourselves what we are asking our students to leave at our doors when they enter our classrooms. It gave me great pause for thought. Initially, I thought, “HA! I don’t do that!” But, upon further reflection, I realized that I do. We all do, intentionally or not. Over the past couple of years, I have continued to consider this point. I decided that since I will always have some kinds of expectations of my students, that I at least wanted to be more intentional about this area of my teaching practice.

Today, I still expect my students to leave parts of who they are at the door. (For instance, the soccer playing part that is best accommodated on the playground.) But now I am more conscious of what my expectations are, and I know they aren’t the same for all of my students. I may ask one student to leave his/her impatience and “temper” at the door, while I allow another student to bring this frustration into the classroom because I know he or she needs support to learn how to cope during a challenging life experience.

This topic arose again during our class meeting today, in a discussion about inclusion and exclusion as expressed in seating choices, but that is a topic for another day.

My hope is that people throughout America will be inviting each other into their classrooms and offices to discuss the same issues my students and I did.

Spencer Ellsworth said...

One of the most vocal complaints of the "neo-atheist" movement represented by people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris has been the unspoken against atheists in government. Although their tactics are usually obnoxious, I am glad you addressed their concerns in your classroom.

thought.trails said...

In a school of immigrants in Brooklyn, we screamed, we cried, and we rallied in the hallways. Students waved newspapers with Barack Obama's face. Shouts of "We did it!" rang through the hallways. Room 517, where I have the honor of working with and learning from 90 seniors buzzed with the talk of what happened the night before.

Students told tales of explosions of happiness in their neighborhoods. There were parties in the streets and cars honking incessantly.

When everyone was calmed down, we discussed McCain's concession speech and Obama's acceptance speech.

"I think McCain was racist," declared one student.
"I don't know. I think he did okay, considering he lost," said another.

Students challenged each other on the validity of the opponents' speeches. They readily quoted what they heard, helping each other translate from their native languages. You see, all of the students at the high school where I teach are recent immigrants. Very few are citizens and several received little formal education in English before coming to the U.S. They all knew, however, that this election was historic---and had the potential to change their futures.

My students, via satellite T.V., mostly watched the speeches in their native languages to better understand what was going on. They heard reporters from their home countries break the news. They got phone calls from and made phone calls to all parts of the world. They were able to share in class what most of the U.S. will not able to experience firsthand and may not comprehend---an overwhelming response to a singular event that has set off a series of new lifelines and towlines and headlines to the U.S.

We'll see where the mighty 90 at this school take it from here.

Carmen Werder said...

I teach communication (mainly civil discourse) at a medium-sized public liberal arts university in the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn't what happened in my classroom that I want to share. It was what I observed in our Teaching-Learning Academy, a dialogue forum on teaching and learning that I direct and that includes students, faculty, and staff from across campus who work to improve the learning culture. We have been talking about what we might do to live out our institutional mission to build a sustainable future, conserve resources, and build on diversity. While the conversations had been animated before the election, on the day afterwards, I saw and heard a spirit of collective agency - a sense that we *can* make a difference together that I have never witnessed before. I've never seen the us/them distinction we usually maintain between faculty and students, faculty and staff, faculty and administration melt away so conspicuously. But I also need to note that in this same dialogue forum the following day, on Nov. 6, the sense of collective agency had faded somewhat. That's why I think we need to keep talking about our own individual and collective agency. I was pleased to hear "Toby" use the language of "agency" because I think we need to recast the way we talk about our ability to effect change. Power talk with its implications of power over others needs to give way to talk of agency, where our individual and collective ability to act does not rely on someone else giving us the directive or the energy - whether it is our new president or anyone else - but on our own sense of what we can do. It is sustaining this sense of individual and collective agency that I think will move us to act responsibly in all the days to come.