Hello, Hysterectomy

Repealing the ACA negatively impacts more people I know than not. Here is how it affects me: I had to get a hysterectomy last month. Giant fibroids in my uterus meant that every day I was in varying levels of pain, some worse than others–but every day. When the surgeon told me in September, he said “let’s do the surgery next week.” “I have to wait,” was my reply. I was just starting the most insane semester ever: 10 hours of doc courses + full-time job + no accumulated leave = no hysterectomy, yet. “Well,” he told me, “you know how much pain you can tolerate.”

We scheduled it for December. The day after the surgery, the doctor tells me, “you are tough.” Part of the reason I was in so much pain was because one of the tumors was dying inside my uterus. As it died, the tumor was trying extra hard to suck out all of the blood. Because when I make a uterus full of tumors, I make at least a third of it super evil.

I first knew I had at least one fibroid tumor ten years ago, but I didn’t want to get a hysterectomy before I was 30. I hoped they would shrink (it was possible). They are normally painless; many women have them and never know. But as time went on, I popped ibuprofen like other people pop their gum. If pre-existing conditions were not covered by my insurance, I’d have been unable to have the surgery. My quality of life has been significantly impacted since my hysterectomy (I’m saving significant dollars on ibuprofen already!). I am so, so thankful that I finally went ahead and took control of my health last year. I am equally thankful I didn’t just try to remove the fibroids. Those demons would have grown back, and I would be in a damn mess.

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Social Efficiency

Social efficieny-ists are hard to synthesize in a few hundred words because, unlike humanists, they have multiple, sometimes contradictory, perspectives. Another complexity is that the most critical national battle in higher education is the struggle between the aforementioned contradictions and, in fact, is the most prevalent problem in education: the battle between theory and practice. On the whole, social efficiency-ists imagine school as well-organized educational experiences that prepare students for their futures (Eisner, 1967; Popham, 1972; Schiro 2013). In clear response to humanists, Bobbit (1918) returned home from the Philippines having realized that the Pilipino students there had vastly different experiences from those he typically worked with in America, thus deserving a more tailored education. Instead of educating everyone as if they were going to be university professors and scholars of a discipline, public schooling should prepare students for their varied futures (Bobbit). In theory, Bobbit’s concept is socially progressive and educates students based on local contexts; however, “local” often varies widely among practitioners and policymakers. Common Core Standards are but one example in a string of nationally adopted policies that, when put into practice, failed to deliver the intended results.

Social efficiency-ists value experiences. In theory, knowledge or “experiences” could be considered any kind of social situation or scenario (Bobbit, 1918). Students, then, could take welding and pottery to prepare for any imagined future, which is much different from merely observing a faraway culture like in MACOS (Bruner, 1966). In practice, however, the experiential learning concept becomes stifling for both institutions and students due to varied controls from government and the economy.

Two broad views of the learner exist in the social efficiency ideology: apprentice or deficit (Bobbit, 1918). In practice, these views of students have created a culture where 17-year-olds should know which job they want for the next two decades during a rapidly changing time. Will brought our attention to Ruby Payne’s philosophy (Spearman, 2016), a great example of deficit teaching. Many times, deficit instruction emanates from good intentions, such as hoping to understand impoverished students better. When widely implemented, however, the deficit instruction becomes 10-second sound bites with stereotypical undertones, leaving marginalized students feeling oppressed and majority students and teachers feeling entitled.

Teachers manage curriculum, sometimes serving as evaluators. In recent years, some districts have become so standardized that teachers read scripts, promoting bitter drones reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s teacher (Hughes, 1986). Often, standardized assessment takes center stage for social efficiency-ists. If education can be funneled into a hierarchical list of concepts (i.e., broad to narrow), then student assessment is a natural means by which teachers, schools, districts, and nations can measure objectives as successful (Popham, 1972; Bobbit, 1918; Schiro, 2013). Theoretically, instructors would measure a student’s baseline, teach a concept, and assess student success. Yet, complex measurements of millions of students are not sustainable at the local or national level, hence the current state of standards-obsessed education that leads to gainful employment (Mims, 2016).

References

Bruner, J. S. (1966). Man: A course of study. Toward a Theory of Curriculum and Instruction, 73-101. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Eisner, E.W. (1967) Education objectives—Help or hindrance. School Review75(3) 250-260.

Hughes, J., Jacobson, T., Broderick, M., Ruck, A., Sara, M., Jones, J., Grey, J. Paramount Home Entertainment (Firm). (1986). Ferris Bueller’s day off. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Home Entertainment.

Mims, S.; Banowsky, B. (2016). Starving the Beast: The battle to disrupt and reform        America’s public universities. Railyard Films (Firm). Santa Fe, NM: Railyard Films.

Popham, J. W. (1972). “Objectives.”  In An evaluation guidebook: A set of practical guidelines for the educational evaluator by James W. Popham, Chapter 2.  Los Angeles, CA: The Instructional Objectives Exchange.

Schiro, M. (2013) Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns. 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Spearman, M. (2016). Social Efficiency part 1. Personal Collection of Spearman, Clemson University, Clemson, SC.

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. In Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction by Ralph W. Tyler, 1-7, 16-19, 25-33. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Social Reconstructionist

Problems can be viewed as something to solve or something to overcome; neither perspective changes the complexity of the problem; however, the latter offers less hope and control to those impacted by the problem. These two perspectives illustrate the spectrum of social reconstructionists: one a more aggressive and fatalistic perspective, the other a more hopeful endeavor. All social reconstructionists agree society is not perfect and people need to address those imperfections consistently and from an early age (Schiro, 2012; Freire, 1970; Counts, 1932). Social reconstructionists see education as a way to better society through intentional practice (Counts, 1932; Friere, 1970; Schiro, 2014). Across the country, K-12 students are donating blood food, and time, or participating in debates or skits that highlight one societal issue or another. The exact ways to fix societal problems are as varied and complex as the problems themselves, yet in classrooms and school districts across the globe, teachers and students are working together to address poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ignorance, even though there are likely as many pretending that these topics should not be discussed in classrooms. Many teachers are uncomfortable addressing difficult challenges during class sessions (Schiro, 2014; Spearman class session 7), but Friere and Counts would agree that pretending away societal problems does little to affect the classroom or the student.

The liberal social reconstructionist intentionally empowers students to learn about the problems in as many ways as possible (e.g. Highlander School and Paperclips). The teachers are agents of change and they work with students so they can engage with the social problem in an attempt to solve or more deeply understand it. Rosa Parks’ Highlander School picture brought tears to my eyes, and I am humbled by the thought that teachers inspired Parks to keep standing that day. Her example illustrates the very best benefit of a social reconstructionist education. One problem, however, is that such benefits are impossible to measure. Perhaps Parks mentioned at one point she had remembered a specific lesson about empowerment from her teachers at Highlander School, but such an event cannot be replicated. Assessment is less about technical skills and more about soft skills. Teaching people about otherness is often fraught with complaints, and often times schools are not notified of the successes of these skills—we have to infer them based on specific metrics about a school or teacher (i.e. so many presidents attended an ivy league or went to church as four-year-olds).

Counts (1932), a more conservative social reconstructionist commanded teachers to elicit students to make change because “with the world as it is we cannot afford for a single instant to remove our eyes from the social scene or shift our attention from the peculiar needs of the age” (47). His approach was clearly more direct, and perhaps more offensive, yet one need look no further than annual high school food or blood drives to see the watering down of issues and gamification of problem solving.

References

Counts, G. S. (1932).  Dare the School Build a New Social Order?, 13-27.  New York: The John     Day Company.

Freire, P. (1970).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 75-86, 95-100.  New York, NY: The Continuum     International Publishing Group.

 

 

 

 

Curriculum Characters

Somewhere between Kliebard’s (2005) love of Dewey and Counts’ emboldened speech at the annual meeting of the Progressive Education Association, I began seeing Curriculum Theory as a layered story. Reading about curriculum theories prompted me to imagine characters: historical, fictional, personal, political and institutional representing different facets of curriculum. Some of the curriculum characters and themes I have imagined and recognized explicate my personal curriculum journey below.

50 Shades of Meredith Grey

A hallmark of learning a new theory is seeing examples of it in whatever I consume. I have made countless friends and acquaintances take the Myers’ Brigg personality inventory, and as I am learning more about someone, I sort him/her into the four categories (I can often type someone after ten questions). When I learned about dramaturgy (Goffman, 1959), I stopped conversations to point out when I thought people were saving face or switching roles, last week I made as many people as were willing get their fortune told by the fortune telling fish I swiped from the Media Center (fortune fish thought Dr. Farmer and Leslie Roberts were jealous). When I was writing the first short paper, I started categorizing teachers from popular culture into respective curriculum ideologies, and I began noticing that two of Shonda Rhimes’ most popular shows. In the future, I may do content analyses of the curriculum theories at play in Grey’s Anatomy and Rhimes’ other show featuring education, How to Get Away with Murder.

Grey’s Anatomy, the fictional, soapy drama of a group of doctors in Seattle, has featured an education aspect since the first episode (Rhimes, 2005). Meredith Grey begins the series as an intern, and learns from many attending doctors until she becomes a resident and then an attending herself, guiding two sets of interns so far. In the first episode, Miranda Baily (social reconstructionist), Meredith’s resident, tells Meredith and the other interns they are “grunts, nobodies, the bottom of the surgical food chain,” and as the series progresses, so does Meredith who worked her way from the bottom to the chief of general surgery and (through a series of completely impossible events) a member of the hospital board. The most recent episode features Meredith’s most trusted advisor, Dr. Richard Webber (humanist), her intern, Stephanie Edwards, and the head trauma surgeon, Dr. Owen Hunt (social efficiency theorist).

Throughout the episode, the doctors are working to save a car accident survivor, but at the beginning, Webber commands the doctors to imagine the patient as a person they want to save. When he demands it, he imagines the patient (John Doe, a white male) morphs into a middle-aged Black woman, and he tells a story about her: “Gail.” The surgery is complicated, and the doctors (besides Webber) are exhausted from previous long shifts and the stress of their personal lives. The remainder of the episode showcases the moment when each doctor is able to consider the patient a person rather than a set of working systems. Each time a doctor is able to understand the patient in a personal way, the patient survives a new obstacle during the surgery. At the end of the episode, Webber explained to Grey a paradigm shift from doctors desensitizing themselves from patients to doctors personalizing the patients, which ultimately led to better outcomes. This episode, perhaps more than any other, captures my thoughts about how the primary curriculum theories fit together and my own journey of finding a balance between them by showing both teacher and learner perspectives. In my own interactions with students, the moments I deem most successful are those when a student or group of students are people to me rather than just objectives. Part of why I know my current job as curriculum consultant is not my forever job is the fact that I feel so detached from the important work of the school. Noddings (2010) and her caring about students is a child centered tendency that some may think does not belong in a high school or college classroom. Yet, my least successful days as teachers were those when I prioritized the rules of school over a student’s needs. During my first year teaching tenth grade, Ruben nearly punched me in the face because I offhandedly said I didn’t care that his grandfather was sick, he had missed a deadline. As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I wanted them back. I did not mean I did not care that his grandfather was ill, but it was too late. A few minutes later he was standing inches from me, fists clenched, veins throbbing, voice shaking. My class was scared, and I am thankful Ruben made the choice to leave the room the second time I asked him. There have been other times since that I regretted saying thoughtless things to students, but try to be cognizant that students are learning how to react and in all of the practice situations of school, and I am a model they are consistently looking to whether we talk about it or not.

Oh, the Places I’ve Gone

Anytime I have taught a novel or a short story, my students and I have talked about setting. Setting can be so complexly layered and integral a piece to the story, that it is ruminated upon much like characters (e.g. Dante’s Hell or Twain’s Garden of Eden). I have learned and taught in a wide variety of contexts (i.e. grades 7-12, community and technical colleges, and public universities), and often the places dictate the scope of my actions and thoughts regarding curriculum. I left my first teaching position mid-school year, and in the Spring of 2005 I found myself the ESL Coordinator for Ash Grove, a small district in Southwest Missouri. I assumed I would be working with predominately Spanish speakers, but Ash Grove’s ESL population were nearly all Romanian. My work at Ash Grove was entirely on the fringes—I was a part-time employee, so I was not invited to faculty meetings. I worked with a small population of students: 8 Romanian students (siblings aged 16-6) and 2 French students (siblings aged 12 and 14). I worked with the elementary aged students on early reading and writing skills, and we played rhyming games and sang songs to increase vocabulary and we practiced spelling lessons. I tutored the middle and high school students in any subject they needed help with, which was mostly math, science, and history. During my time at Ash Grove, I switched from the scholar academic mindset I had had fresh out of my master’s program and became more child centered. Because a big part of my job at Ash Grove was to be an advocate for students, and I was working across disciplines and grade levels with a few students at a time, I found myself tailoring lessons to specific student interests. Anna, an eighth grader, hated math and fractions, and I found myself scouring her textbook for word problems, and rewrote them about topics she was interested in (pets because otherwise her apathy outmatched her will to learn.

Memories of Ash Grove are fuzzy. My position originated because when the Romanian students enrolled, the district increased the percentage of ESL students increased enough to warrant a part-time ESL designee. The position was not a good fit for me, so when an English position came open for the next school year, I applied. I had spent a lot of time aligning middle and high school English curriculum for Green Forest (my first teaching position). I worked closely with the district curriculum director, applied for an earned a grant from AP to do a district vertical team workshop, and wrote curriculum guides for 7-12 grades. When I recounted this experience to the principal at Ash Grove, he shook his head and explained, “anybody can do that. We are looking for strong teachers.” I did not get the English position, and the next year I returned to being my normal high school English teacher self.

Another place that has certainly shaped my thoughts about teaching and learning is my online classroom. My humor and body language help me navigate student interactions in ways I cannot rely on when I teach online, and developing my online teacher persona has been challenging for me; I love to talk and tell stories, and online discussions can become stilted. I have taught via few learning management systems, and I have done so for several groups of high school and college. Each semester I get better at teaching online because I become more comfortable in the online classroom. Students have a hard time seeing their online teachers and courses like their other teachers and courses, and for many semesters my composition students complained that they would have learned more in a classroom with a teacher they had daily access to. For a long time I addressed this issue by highlighting or bolding lines in the syllabus, “you can find my contact information in the Instructor area,” but I would stay frustrated about the lack of contact and continued complaints. Last Spring I finally changed how I did things instead of hoping students would read more closely, and this shift is one toward social efficiency and child centered ideologies. Because my composition courses are offered at a community college, they resonate most with working through a set of requirements. I have a hard time labeling a part of education more social efficient than earning both high school and college credit at the same time. Students have to write a prescribed number of specific essays, and I have to grade by a common rubric. I also have to engage high school students who have never seen me or heard my fabulous monster voice. As time goes on, I have added personal touches—I upload videos of me showing students how to find information, and I make them text me so we can have each other’s numbers. I am careful to be concise and clear in my emails to them, and I use their names and offer to call them often. These intentional changes have made my online classroom a much different place, and has given me (and I hope students) a better sense of ownership.

Illustrated Curriculum Book

Education is my life’s work. I played school with my brother, cousins, friends, and toys. Suitcases were our desks, and I vacillated between teacher and student depending on where I played. If all of my experiences in education were a pie, each of the four major ideologies would be represented in pieces similar to a Trivial Pursuit piece. Figure 1 illustrates my current curriculum ideology perspective. I drew myself in the middle to show my influence in the curriculum. Since beginning this course and noticing all of the competing curricular beliefs, I have recognized that I have a responsibility as a curriculum agent (i.e. student, teacher, evaluator, consultant) to try and persuade my curricular work as intentionally as I am able to given any number of constraints. In my online dual credit freshman composition classroom in rural Missouri, I have to present my super liberal self in a careful way. If students were pressed, they would probably guess I am liberal, but I do not think they would see me as pushing a political agenda.

Figure 1: a graphic representing my curriculum theory development

I specifically chose each color to represent its specific ideology; scholar academic is gold, which represents knowledge. Green indicates the growth of the individual in child centered. While I colored the social efficiency piece blue, I thought of blue collar workers, and the purple represents pride and has represented marginalized people. At the beginning of the semester, I would have been in the center, each piece would have been the same size, and the arrows would be bouncing between them to show the contextualized nature of how they work together. I have worked at institutions that were more social efficient than scholar academic, and at some that were more child centered than social efficiency, but I also see a need for differentiation between courses and among students. The juxtaposition of having both the highest and lowest ranked students is not uncommon for rural high school teachers, which was one of the biggest challenges of teaching high school. Negotiating the strongest and weakest student within a class period meant that I had to use features of child centered (engaging student interest), social efficiency (working toward a skillset that could be tapped into a later time) and scholar academic (investigating the aesthetic aspects of language) during a single class. I did not intentionally think of those ideologies while I meandered between them, which is what the arrows represent.

The Biggest Piece

At the beginning of the semester, I was hesitant to call myself a social reconstructionist. As the semester went on, the election loomed, and then we lost a utopia many of us took for granted before November 9. Part of me thinks writing about this is a bit dramatic. I hear people saying that one person cannot change the country so much in a few years. But then Count’s (1932) words, “with the world as it is we cannot afford for a single instant to remove our eyes from the social scene or shift our attention from the peculiar needs of the age” (47) resound in my head along with the work of Friere (1970). They both call teachers to action. Yet, my social reconstructionist awareness has been progressively increasing over the past decade within all of my education experiences. As a teacher, my bend toward social reconstructionist started when I met Laura Rankin.

Rankin has been teaching at Spokane High School since the early nineties. When I met her, she was starting her 13th year of teaching mostly upper classmen a variety of English Language Arts courses including college prep and creative writing. Laura and I carpooled together about 40 minutes back and forth between Springfield (the third largest city in Missouri) and Spokane (tiny town, rhymes with Billy Zane), so we got to know each other pretty well. Rankin was the first colleague I tried to emulate. Her students respected and worked hard for her, even if they did not imagine themselves to be good students. When I started teaching, No Child Left Behind proponents (not Au, 2012) were beginning to be stricter about the percentage of proficient students; at small schools like Spokane, a few dropouts were a significant percentage of students and we spoke often of the troubling contradictions of teaching to the test and developing critical thinkers. As the administration became more aggressive about test scores, Rankin repeatedly told me, “if we create critical readers and writers, we are doing our job.” Her quiet mantra became mine, and it has served me well. Laura created a culture of readers at Spokane by reading. She began a book club, and invited teachers to participate with students. Once a month laughter and serious conversations are happening about books after school in her room. She lets the students help pick them, but the texts she selects are often about students much different from the ones in her book club. As people read about other people and places, their own minds become stretched and more inclusive and empathetic to people who are different from them (WSJ article), and I heard many book club participants explain how they would not have picked up a book had it not been for book club. Rankin also helps students get recognized for their writing by entering as many student works as possible in the regional writing contest of the Language Arts Department, a Southwest Missouri K-12 writing competition. Rankin is a literacy champion for students, and helping students become critically literate is certainly the work of social reconstructionist, although it is more of Freire’s version instead of Counts’. By helping students see multiple perspectives and have successes in literacy, Rankin has created an army of thoughtful former students. She has often commented on the service intentions of classes of Spokane students—a class of 50 students will have a dozen or so who hope to go into education or medicine.

While I worked with Rankin, I took some upper level sociology courses to earn the 18 required hours to teach sociology.  One of them, The Civil Rights Movement, changed how I approached books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn in my classroom—instead of focusing mainly on Lee and Twain’s writings, I asked students to grapple with the social issues. We spent time talking about prejudice and choices almost as much as language and parts of the story. When I left Spokane for a new teaching adventure at Missouri’s Virtual Instruction Program, Rankin and her influence on me gave me pause.

Since working with her, I have noticed myself taking a more intentional approach to social justice issues in my own classroom and I have tried to emulate the ways she talks about books with students. The purple piece of my curriculum ideology, social reconstructionist, is bigger now than at the beginning of the semester. I can see evidence of my social justice focus in my most recent semesters teaching high school, and certainly in my work in the English Department as a lecturer for freshman composition. The social reconstructionists are the teacher heroes we most often think of—the ones who disrupt the status quo like Dead Poet Society’s Keating and Freedom Writers’ Gruwell. Of course, there is a possibility I am just taking notice of more of these teachers because I am hoping that there are more teachers like them out there, even though I fear they are merely characters in a movie instead of characters influencing students’ curricular experiences.

 

 

After Finals

We tell our secrets to each other in hushed tones,

after midnight. The roar of the bar dying down,  flights

having lost our sobriety between poorly harmonized

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a large pepperoni pizza.

No one mentions them again when the day brightens

and we have resumed our normal day-to-day

moments.

Can ‘o courage

I waver between being completely calm, cool, and collected, and being a hot mess. When I curled my mom’s hair before her funeral I was nearly robotic. At Tokyo Bay when the servers sing happy birthday and beat on a drum, tears roll down my face. I keep it together when my father-in-law has been murdered, but at a pep rally I can’t see the cheerleaders because I’m blinking back sobs. I cry about my problems in the car. To and from work. To and from the store. I’m not the girl crawling into someone’s lap or the woman slumped against her husband sobbing. I’m the girl holding the sobbing friend.

When I do cry it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I can’t handle the change of something or that I can’t go on without someone. My biggest fears are probably everyone’s biggest fears: being left alone, realizing I don’t matter, losing someone I love. Yet they paralyze me at ridiculous times. If someone is five minutes late, I assume that person is charring in a fiery car crash or under a semi.

I also fear tiny things: mice, being laughed at, talking to strangers, falling down (or up) a flight of stairs) locking the keys in my car, accidentally not cooking chicken enough. Some of these fears are healthy. I don’t want to get salmonella. Not talking to strangers, on the other hand, might me to miss out of experiences or relationships. Or does it help me from being kidnapped?

If I could open a …I imagine this was going to say a can of courage. But I wrote that above jumble 4 years ago. And I’m publishing it now becauseI am tired of starting so many drafts and deciding they aren’t ready or good enough. It’s never or now.

The BIG Review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are times that I read books that are well-written, but the stories don’t stick with me, or times when the stories flatten me, but I almost can’t see them because of the pedestrian writing. Fowler, again, has delivered the very best kind of book: the one that is well-written with such an interesting story that I didn’t want to see end. I didn’t read the synopsis of this book, but began reading it because a.) it is Clemson’s summer read, and b.) Karen Joy Fowler blew me away with the Jane Austen Book Club, and I don’t like Jane Austen (I know, I know, that’s evil….sue me).

I didn’t realize Fern was a primate, but looking back, I should have realized. Yet, that’s what Fowler planned, right? I saw Fern as a sister, a daughter, a family member rather than an animal first. Because of that I was able to understand how Rosemary could forget when Fern went away. And why Lowell left or had to leave.

This novel, beyond being a carefully crafted and effective story, brings up many issues I like to pretend don’t exist, much like Rosemary. I found myself aligning with her wish to sleep through a bad time and ignoring problems or seeing them in a whole other perspective. Being aligned with her from the beginning helped me stick with her during the hard times when I was yelling, “slap Harlow!” who wound up being a believable character. Animal testing, family lies, how we live so much of our lives thinking through the layers of those with whom we surround ourselves, and how we can so easily misread or misremember truth resonates with me. I hope it resonates with the freshman class at Clemson this summer as well.

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