Social Justice: taking action GSAs

For ED 808, we are to,

practice agency in trying to ameliorate, solve, or otherwise begin to improve an issue of your choosing involving a social justice cause. It may take the form of a petition, a letter to a politician, a personal/group action, setting up a website, volunteering some of your time somewhere where it’s needed, or other initiatives to foster positive local, regional, provincial, national, or global change.

I decided to write a letter to four people, regarding the need for Gender & Sexuality Alliances (commonly known and Gay-Straight Alliances) to be implemented in all publicly funded schools within Saskatchewan. If you’d like to check out the letter, you can view it here.

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After I mailed the letters to the following people:

  • Rob Currie – Director Education, Regina Catholic Schools
  • Premier Brad Wall – Premier of Saskatchewan
  • Don Morgan – SK Minister of Education
  • Bill Hutchinson – Local MLA

I was pointed to these articles, which offer information regarding GSAs in schools.

The first is an article, “Catholic schools ahead of push for gay-straight alliance support groups: Students needs forcing issue, bishop sayspublished October 28. This article is a step in the right direction, however the central problem remains: students are forced to “come out” or to specifically ask for a GSA to be started, and many times, these groups are not approved by school administration.

The next article was a document just published by the SK Ministry of Education – Deepening the Discussion: Gender and Sexual Diversity.” This document is also a step in the right direction, but as with the previous article, the central problem still remains. The other area of my concern is what is meant by the term inclusion. While well meaning, this term still “others” LGBTQ youth and I question as to whether the information presented in this document while help the inclusion of LGBTQ youth in our schools. This document does however works to support staff, offering them information to help understand LGBTQ youth, to work to support these students, and links to the SK Curriculum. On pages 28-31, the area (which I am concerned about) that discusses GSAs, I believe not much has been offered holding schools accountable to make sure that GSAs are approved and started. It is recommended that students are questioned as to why they would like a GSA to be started and there is no mandate that an adviser will be made available. Regardless, the document is positive, and I hope schools take the time to read through it and adopt the practices it is suggesting.

 

 

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Schooling the World

Tonight in ED 808, we viewed the film, Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden.

If you wanted to change a culture in a generation, how would you do it?

You would change the way it educates its children.

The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for rural and Indigenous children.

But is this true?  What really happens when we replace another culture’s canon of knowledge with our own?  Does life really get better for its people?

SCHOOLING THE WORLD takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply troubling look at the role played by modern education in the destruction of the world’s last sustainable land-based cultures.

Beautifully shot on location in the Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the northern Indian Himalayas, the film weaves the voices of Ladakhi people through a conversation between four carefully chosen original thinkers; anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis,  a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Helena Norberg-Hodge and Vandana Shiva, both recipients of the Right Livelihood Award for their work with traditional peoples in India; and Manish Jain, a former architect of education programs with UNESCO,  USAID, and the World Bank.

It  examines the hidden assumption of cultural superiority behind education aid projects, which overtly aim to help children “escape” to a “better life.”

It looks at the failure of institutional education to deliver on its promise of a way out of poverty – here in the United States as well as in the so-called “developing” world.

And it questions our very definitions of wealth and poverty – and of knowledge and ignorance – as it uncovers the role of schools in the destruction of traditional sustainable agricultural and ecological knowledge, in the breakup of extended families and communities, and in the devaluation of ancient spiritual traditions.

Finally, SCHOOLING THE WORLD calls for a “deeper dialogue” between cultures, suggesting that we have at least as much to learn as we have to teach, and that these ancient sustainable societies may harbor knowledge which is vital for our own survival in the coming millenia.

– www.http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/

I encourage all educators to take the time to view this film – I hope it will help you to reflect on education and the dominance of the West.

disrupting the norm p2

This post is a continuation of Disrupting the Norm P1 – a post about last night’s class which created discomfort for some when we began talking about LGBT students and issues that they face in schools.

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This is me – Cynthia. What do first see when you look at this picture of me?

I walked into one class and the professor said, “What’s your name?”

I replied, “Cynthia.”

The professor paused and looked at me with a puzzled expression.

I said, “I am Cynthia.”

I think she was expecting me to have a man’s name, even though I am a female, but my gender performance is more masculine.

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When you look at a picture of Caitlyn Jenner, who do you see? Do you see Caitlyn or do you still see and refer to her as Bruce?

Woman Looking at Reflection --- Image by © Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis
Woman Looking at Reflection — Image by © Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis

When you look at the person next to you, or in the mirror, who do you see?

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Why is it that one of the first things we think about when we see someone is whether they are a boy or a girl? Why does it matter to you if I am a boy or a girl?

Gender is a social construction, and if you look at Judith Butler’s work, she suggests gender is a performance. An important distinction needs to be noted, gender does not influence one’s sexuality. Because one’s performance of gender can vary, someone might not fit into societies stereotypical image of who a woman looks like or who a man looks like. Likewise, stereotypes about people’s sexuality are also not accurate. A gay man be ‘flamboyant’, or he may be very masculine. A lesbian may be very feminine in appearance and actions, or she may be more masculine, more ‘butch’.

Just because a young girl may appear to dress as a “tom-boy” or more masculine in appearance, this does not indicate that they are transgender, or that they are a lesbian. For myself, I know that I dress the way I do because this is how I feel comfortable. Are there times when my appearance becomes more feminine, certainly, however I do not always feel comfortable in those situations.

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I met another professor and I said, “Hi, I’m Cynthia.” I later found out that she began to question my gender. She told me that after a while, she thought to herself, “why does it matter what gender you are?” – Indeed, why does it matter?

This professor happens to be my course instructor. After class, I talked with her for a bit and we had a great conversation, where she shared the above information. We also talked about how I felt during class, whether I was able to talk within my small group, etc. I told her that the small group discussion was hard, as people are set in their beliefs. I also told her that in the large class discussion I did not say certain things that I wanted to bring up, partially because a few classmates were mad that we were talking about LGBT topics, as well as the fact that I questioned how much do I tell about myself? Do I need to “out” myself? Should I have to “out” myself in order to impact my classmates viewpoints, or for them to realize that what they are voicing may be hurtful?

The professor and I talked through these points, as well as others. I appreciate her showing me first that she cares about me, and second that she was willing to continue the discussion.

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The ultimate question our class was left with at the end of the night was:

How will LGBT students be supported and defended without resorting to something that constructs them as outside the norm, or something that labels them as ‘others’?

Excuses from teachers of “I don’t know enough” or “my students aren’t LGBT,” can’t be seen as valid or acceptable responses anymore. Everyone knows someone or has heard about LGBT rights. As well, I believe that religion can no longer, nor has it ever been a valid excuse for the homophobic treatment by Catholics towards LGBT people. If we are taught to love one another and to treat others as we want to be treated, I believe that we should do so.

While progress has been made, there is so much further to go. We often talk about race and culture, and avoid topics such as LGBT rights, because it is easier to talk about culture. Culture is what society likes to talk about – look at the media. Why do we put up walls when talking about / to LGBT students, families, health, etc?

 

disrupting the norm p1

Last night’s class created discomfort for some when we began talking about LGBT students and issues that they face in schools. Many were quick to defend inclusive actions, and to show that they are accepting. I’d like to share a few moments and talk about them, because these moments really caused me to reflect not only about myself, but the students in our schools, and policies that are / are not in place.

The first quote that resonated with me is:

Our job, as teachers, no matter who our students are or where they are when they come to us, is to start teaching them. We can’t play the blame game regarding whose fault it is that they don’t have the prior knowledge or skills we expect they should have learned in years prior.

While not specific to LGBT students, in general, this quote reinforces the notion that we as teachers must do our job, we must teach. We take the child as they come to us and we teach them, we catch them up as much as we can and we work to help them move ahead. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in what students don’t know, that we miss the point that they are capable learners and that they all have knowledge that they bring with them, even if it may be different from what we expect.

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Treaty education: to understand what it means to be a treaty person.

We are all treaty people. White people, First Nations people, people of different ethnicity who live in Canada.

Indeed we are all treaty people, but why is there still such a divide? Why do the dominant group in society only see First Nation people as being treaty people? There is still the notion that First Nation people are not equal to the rest of society.

In our class, it is easy for my classmates to talk about culture and race. This topic does not appear to cause them discomfort. I wonder if this is because our school board has mandated that treaty education be taught to all students. I do believe that it is easier to talk about race as well because LGBT people are still considered to be abnormal, to be the other and to not be normal. This causes panic and fear, where the dominant hetero-normative group maintains their power, dominance and privilege over ‘the other’. It causes discomfort for many people when they are being asked to consider and talk about a group of people still considered to be abnormal, regardless of the progress LGBT people have made.

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A classmate share the following story with us:

A girl at school has always been a ‘tomboy’. One day she came up to us and said, “I wish to be called and identified as a boy.” My classmate then went on to talk about this student and his experience in school. While the classmate was talking, she kept referring to the student as “her” even though she had told us that the student wished to be called “him”. I interrupted her story and said, “I understand that the student’s sex is female, but he has told you that he wishes to be known as “him.” Why then in the last 20 sentences that you’ve shared with us, do you keep referring to the student as her?” My classmate was unable to recognize that she was doing this, and kept trying to avoid my question.

I didn’t push any further, because there was tension and I could tell that perhaps she was uncomfortable. While she has said that she and other staff are supporting, the language my classmate was using showed a contradictory stance.

I believe that language is the area to start with when working to respect youth who are expressing their gender in ways that challenge the norm. Do you say, “boys over here, girls over there? Or hey guys?” Think about how this language impacts students who are transgender or those who perform gender outside the norm..

While challenging our thinking, our language and our discourse is disruptive work, it is work that must be done. In recognizing that this not easy, and that it will take time, we will feel uncomfortable. It is hard but necessary work.

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Schools are regulated spaces for LGBT students,in that they are expected ti act “straight”, to blend in with the other students, to not outwardly express their sexuality through traditional stereotypes such as being a “flamboyant” boy, as this may indicate that he is gay. While LGBT students are accepted, I question if they really are. Are they able to be themself? Are they able to talk, dress, question openly, or are they told to keep quiet? Do schools integrate without extra effort, stories about LGBT families or kids, or do we make known that we are being inclusive by saying I read a story yesterday, “And Tango Makes Three” or “A Tale of Two Mommies” or “King & King”, where the story talks about LGBT families.

I no longer believe that schools can be an “anti-bullying” school. Schools cannot  just be accepting, or tolerant. People and schools have to change, which will take time. Likewise, we can no longer assume that our schools or our classrooms are hetero-normative. Students themselves may be beginning to figure out their orientation or how they identify, some may have LGBT family members or they may know a gay person for example. Discrimination is felt by all, those who are straight and those who are on the LGBT spectrum, within our classrooms and schools by the language and classroom that is created and fostered.

As a member of the LGBT community, I don’t want people to be tolerant of me. I want people to at least accept that I am a human being. I also don’t want my sexuality or my gender to be used against me/ to single out. I want these things to not matter and for you to not worry about them, to worry about who I am.

 

 

being multiliterate

To survive in this new world, it is important to be multiliterate. Whilst new technologies have been heralded by many as “the totem of educational change” (Drenoyianni, 2006, p.401) and the solution to a variety of educational problems (Cuban 1986), other research indicates that their effectiveness as a learning tool relies on the pedagogy, teaching methods, curriculum and context in which they are used (Peck, Cuban & Kirkpatrick, 2002; Tsiakalos, 2002, as cited by Drenoyianni, 2006). Peck et al.’s (2002) study recognized the potential for improving educational outcomes, but found very few teachers capitalising on this potential…

Saville, M. (2010). Robotics as a Vehicle for Multiliteracies. In D. Pullen & D. Cole (Eds.), Multiliteracies and technology enhanced education: Social practice and the global classroom (p. 215). Hershey, PA.

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In reading Multiliteracies and technology enhanced education by Pullen & Cole, there have been definitions of literacy presented as well as cases made for using technology in the classroom. These cases have been backed by studies the authors have chosen to present. One thing a majority of the studies show is that teachers are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transforming student’s practice. Generally it has been teachers using a technology tool or program in order for students to complete a traditional literacy task on a computer – for example a writing task using MS Word. There is so much more that can happen and take place. Teachers and educators need to be able to see the value of a tool and how it can help students produce a multimodal text, one that has an authentic purpose for it’s creation.

I will admit that there have been times when teaching that I was guilty of simply having the students use the computer to complete a task. In saying this, I do recognize that in the beginning when learning to use a tech tool, for both teachers and students, it’s use can begin as a substitution for an already existing practice.

Interestingly I came across Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low-Level Tech Practices by Bill Ferriter. The article contributes to what I have mentioned here and provides additional thoughts and ideas around technology use within the classroom.

A challenge for myself and other educators to overcome in order for technology to be more than a “tool” to complete traditional literacy practices and tasks and to transform the ways in which students are learning and producing texts.