What’s in a name: Linguistic violence in Turkey

A new and good friend of mine at CUNY is from the Kurdish region of Turkey, located in the southeastern part of the country and sometimes called Turkish Kurdistan. I’ve learned a lot about the region – which is really one part of a larger area that extends into Iraq, Iran, and Syria and comprises 30 million people – from her as well as from the news, like many people who have followed the clashes of various local forces with the crush of ISIS across sections of the Middle East as it seeks to consolidate power. ISIS’s success in destroying Kurdish communities, enslaving, raping, mutilating, and executing hundreds of innocent people in their path, is due in part to the fact that the Turkish government, which historically has brutalized, marginalized, and neglected Kurds, has been reluctant to act to strengthen resistance in the Kurdish region, a fact which some argue inadvertently allowed ISIS to gain footholds it never otherwise would have taken.

This history is long and I confess I don’t know it; however, through my conversations with my friend, I am starting to piece together a view of a complex and ancient set of cultures through her personal experiences as a Kurdish woman living in Turkey. She told me today, for example, that in Turkey it was illegal up until only ten years ago for a Kurdish person to name her child with a Kurdish name (although problems have still surfaced as a result of a continuing ban by the Turkish government on the use of certain letters to write Kurdish names, as such orthographic usages were deemed “dangerous”). In and of itself, this may not seem shocking; there have been cases in which governments have prevented their citizens from naming their children certain names which they deem to have the potential to cause the child strife in later life (for an example, read here about an Australian couple that wanted to name their child “4Real” but later elected “Superman” because the government barred them from the former choice).

The problem comes in when we think about the formal proclamation that all names from one ethnolinguistic identity are banned; this becomes, I would argue, a form of linguistic violence. This mandate was part of a fully articulated policy in Turkey to restrict not only the use of Kurdish – which, if spoken, constituted an illegal act until the 1990s – but also the ability of Kurds to define their most private of spheres: the family. These “names which [did] not conform to national culture, moral norms, customs and traditions and which offend[ed] the public could not be given to children” (this phrasing is taken from an article which discusses the controversy around Kurdish naming in Turkey) and thus were outlawed.

In “Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative,” Judith Butler’s chapter entitled “On Linguistic Vulnerability” elaborates the ways in which language positions us as subjects in society (a process termed “interpellation” by Althusser) and, thus, can act to wound us. It’s an interesting, though somewhat abstract concept (which should be the case as Butler is a philosopher and deals in ideas). A clear example can be seen in situations when a racial or homophobic slur, which has power because it has historically built meaning which becomes “ritualized,” is said by one person to another; the speaker is positioned in a particular way by the speech act, as is the hearer, and a form of symbolic violence (e.g., racism, heterosexism) can take place.

I found myself wondering, as my friend told me this about Turkey’s language policy, whether the excision of certain groups of words which are ethnically rooted couldn’t also constitute a form of linguistic violence. To prohibit the performative act of naming a child – which transforms the child into a linguistic subject as well – means to interrupt the very process of a child’s becoming a part of her sociocultural world. Her physical self is intact, but the name her parents choose for her, acting as an invocation of her cultural identity (Kurdish) in their community, is refused; further, only a name taken from the inventory of options from the intervening culture (Turkish) is permitted, thus creating the first form of linguistic violence against her: a violence of theft and supplantation.

This tragedy, the cleansing of identity from newborns in Kurdish communities, must have gone for many years with little comment from wider society in Turkey and perhaps even in Turkish Kurdistan. Though symbolic, this repeated act over generations no doubt splintered many Kurds’ self-view into one that should be rationed and given over to the dominant/occupying force of Turkey. Let’s hope the healing, the reconstitution of the Kurdish identity can find new hope in the preciousness of the name.


TBT: Analysis and Critique of the Multiple Intelligences Theory as a Pedagogical Approach and Educational Method – UMass Boston, Fall 2012

Midterm Paper: Analysis and Critique of the Multiple Intelligences Theory as a Pedagogical Approach and Educational Method

The multiple intelligences theory was categorized by Professor Leistyna under Week 3 of the Apling 605 syllabus, which addressed the language learning theory of social interactionism. Social interactionism distinguishes itself from the two dominant language learning theories before it (behaviorism and innatism) insofar as it involves a set of principles which incorporate the learner as an active participant in a cognition-based learning process (rather than one which employs habit-building, as in behaviorism) and which include concepts such as communicative competence (communicative competence is, as contrasted by linguistic competence, which is valued by innatism, the ability of a speaker to use language appropriately in a given sociocultural context), the development of cultural capital, bidirectional modeling as a means of apprenticing learners into the new L2/C2, and valuation of both competence and performance in order to determine the learner’s success in language learning. It appears that the multiple intelligences theory is social interactionist because it emphasizes a dynamic, adaptive, and individualized approach to language teaching and learning (rather than the behaviorist, one-size-fits-all model), creates various opportunities to elaborate on both form and function in a given lesson and class, and appears to incorporate acculturation, either explicitly or tacitly, as a focus or benefit of the method (a completely different approach than the acultural innatist model). As regards applications of this method in the L2 language learning process, there have been studies which show the benefit and ease of intermingling between MI and the use of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development in class design and pedagogical approach (for example, see Mehta, 2002), and it has the flexibility and potential, according to the type of language learning program [immersion vs. two-way bilingual, etc.] in place, to illustrate an active transfer of L1 knowledge to the L2 as per the linguistic interdependence principle, especially “where the environment is rich with opportunities for interaction in the second language in purposeful, meaningful activities.” (Cummins & Swain, 1986)

I selected the multiple intelligences theory because I have used this topic as the theme of a lesson in an ESL class I taught in the past, and from that brief contact I was interested to know more about how the theory has been applied to educational methodologies, pedagogical approaches, and real-world classroom environments and practices, while wondering which subjects this theory has had more or less success in. I watched the four videos included in Apling 605’s syllabus which elaborate on MI theory, its benefits and “success stories,” and its uses and applications in a variety of educational situations. In the fourth video we see Howard Gardner, the creator of MI, as an esteemed and famous professor and member of the Harvard glitterati since 1969, in which he defines “intelligence” as “the biopsychological potential to process information in certain ways, in order to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in a culture or community.” (Gardner, 2010) Here Gardner speaks lovingly and somewhat humbly about the applicability and elasticity of the multiple intelligences theory and its response to educational and pedagogical problems in the modern world, especially as relates to standardized testing and underachievement in learners not as “intelligent”, using the parlance of MI and according to many sources, in the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical realms predominantly emphasized in traditional schooling. It appeared to be particularly concerned with ways of addressing different learners’ needs in a variety of ways, providing “multiple access points” to educational content in order to serve the unique abilities of each learner.

The basic practice of using multiple intelligences theory in a pedagogical approach and classroom design appears to be helpful to teachers in finding ways to work with learners who do not benefit from the traditional school model; according to Gardner, “If you teach in many ways, you reach more students.” (Gardner, 2010) His “individualize and pluralize” dual approach asks the instructor to inform him/herself about the learners being taught (individualize) and approach lesson design and classroom procedures in a “friendly,” adaptive, flexible manner in which a variety of learners can benefit at the same time by presenting the information in a number of ways (pluralize). Though not explicit, I assume the role of the learner is to be open to attempting different activities in the spirit of exploration and be ready to embrace his/her “intelligences” as they become apparent. Class lessons and activities are designed to incorporate the eight “intelligences” as described by Gardner: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (there is a ninth potential area of ability called “existential,” though Gardner is hesitant to consider this a fully distinct “intelligence”). Teachers help students reveal, and then learn to capitalize on, the 3-4 “top” “intelligences” of each child (thus ensuring their engagement in the educational process) by creating lessons which contain aspects of all the intelligences.

An example of the application of multiple intelligences theory in the ESL classroom can be seen at About.com (Beare, 2012). If we use this list of ESL activities as a guide, we can see that the MI approach seems, at first blush, to provide some good grounding for a lesson with various entry points. Beare appears to be familiar with MI and works to show how a variety of classroom lessons and activities can be described as in line with MI’s aforementioned concept of “pluralizing,” addressing topics such as pronunciation and intonation (through the use of grammar chants), vocabulary building (through picture use), semantic and syntactic familiarity and building (through lessons focused on phrasal verbs and countable/uncountable nouns), and culturally-specific topics such as “Multinationals” which might help to contextualize learning in a greater integrated understanding of the culture in which the learner is studying. It seems that sociopragmatic and paralinguistic information could become a part of this lesson planning also, an important tenet of the social interactionist theory of language learning to which MI belongs. Assessment as an extension or “final step” in a MI-supported method seems unclear, but in the ESL example I’ve cited, this might not be the end result of the work done in class. (I will address assessment later in this paper, as it relates importantly to Gardner’s articulation of the goals and applications of MI.)

The limitations inherent to the multiple intelligences method lie first in its oversight of educational consideration for topics such as discourse and literacy. The previous paragraph showed several substantial ways in which an instructor can ensure coverage of the traditionally emphasized areas in ESL; however, all of them are content-related, rather than learner-centered, and none of them appear to be motivated by the conscious exploration of social, cultural, and political factors which can strongly impact the academic achievement of learners, especially learners whose identities fall outside the mainstream such as non-whites, non-native English speakers, and members of lower socio-economic classes. (We can also assume that students who pay thousands of dollars a year to study in the U.S., such as the students I imagine Mr. Beare was actually referring to as intended learners for his ESL lessons, belong to the upper socio-economic levels of their cultures, a fact which, statistically speaking, almost certainly implies that they have had a strong educational and academic background and identify with the most powerful groups and discourses in their respective societies.) Discourse in the context of language learning means that a student doesn’t simply learn the L2 which is being studied, but also acquires a second cultural discourse, an “identity kit” which contains the ability to navigate effectively in the C2 in which the L2 is situated (Gee, 1989); to separate linguistic competency from cultural competency, as MI appears to do on its face, is at best an oversight belonging to a thoughtless designer, and at worst, has the potential to set an ELL up, like so many in the U.S., for lower academic achievement in the hands of the nativist English-only programs in our country. Literacy – and I would extend this concept to include academic literacy – is a complementary issue which is related to a learner’s experience with and use of written and read text in his/her sociocultural environment in and outside the home. A very basic example of how literacy appears to be overlooked as an academically important factor in MI-based lesson planning and pedagogy can be illustrated by asking this question: How would a learner display “intelligence” in the logical-mathematical, musical, and linguistic areas (as well as most of the others, if we’re using written documents and textbooks in class which are written under the assumption that a certain level of literacy/academic literacy] can be found in all learners) if he/she doesn’t possess the literacy expected for this age/grade/language ability level? It may well be possible to use this method for learners who are not yet fully literate in English, but I strongly believe that it could not replace the fundamental literacy work needed in the L1 – or at least in the L2 in an environment which provides L1 support to the L2 learner – in order for the kind of academic achievement expected and tested for in U.S. public schools today. If the learner is already literate in the L1, I believe that a transfer of skills (following the CUP bilingual model of the linguistic interdependence principle in social interactionism) would be possible, again, as long as the learning environment were a bilingual educational environment and not an English-only immersion program; if the latter were the case, I’m not sure. As to language level and proficiency, and considerations for a heterogeneous classroom (e.g. containing learners with varying academic abilities, divergent L2 proficiency levels, and a wide range of literacy levels), I think an MI approach might cause things to become very messy, at least from an evaluative and progress-oriented perspective. How would the instructor have the ability or the time to address all of these learners with divergent language and learning needs in their individual responses to lessons designed to engage in one or more of eight different “intelligences” at a time, and know how to manage students’ relative responsiveness to these different activities for present benefit and future reference, let alone assess progress? I think a homogeneous classroom would allow this method to be more fully applied and utilized to the greatest extent of its potential for dynamism and adaptability. I don’t think it implies that there would be a requisite minimum or maximum age, nor a certain language proficiency (again assuming literacy and academic literacy is a constant already here); however, I do think it would be more appropriate for school-age learners, perhaps between the ages of five and eighteen, when certain “intelligences” which are “less academic,” like the musical or spatial “intelligences,” can be incorporated elements in lesson planning of different content.

The videos discussing multiple intelligences theory listed on the Apling 605 syllabus made clear the very strong allegiance many educators have to using MI in their teaching; in fact, at least one member of the current Apling cohort says she used MI to great success in her teaching at Leslie University in the past. It appears that this is one of its strongest points: that it is very much a “classroom-friendly” method and that teachers seem to love it and be loyal to its intended outcomes and benefits to them and their students. (We should qualify the naming of this method “classroom-friendly” by also stating that the implementation of an MI-grounded approach and design model would necessarily imply an allocation of funds and time dedicated to providing the materials [some examples might include texts with visual resources, song books, sports equipment, electronic or A/V resources, and so on] and perhaps a limited amount of training to the instructors who plan to use this new method.) Indeed, it appears to be a pedagogically-oriented method which helps an instructor condition and shape his/her current work, rather than a comprehensive method which incorporates an equal balance of techniques, approaches, and procedures in class and lesson design alongside the fundamental consideration of the sociocultural, political, and academic identity of all types of learners as well as of the learning environment in which the educational process is taking place. While it purports to provide a “multiple access point” approach to educational design, I believe that in reality it assumes a lot of its learners and even the instructors using it as a pedagogical tool. It should be telling that Gardner stated, “I’m sure my theory is ethnocentric” (though it is, as he claims, less ethnocentric than other methods) and that he admitted that the MI method would be difficult to access for learners, educators, and schools coming from different definitions of literacy or lower socio-economic status without access to technology. (Gardner, 2010)

To me MI seems to be, to be blunt, a new set of paints and techniques for middle-class instructors which is motivated by the desire to create new (or redefine tried-and-true) lesson designs and classroom procedures which have not produced academically “successful” students and have left teachers exhausted, anxious about the stability of their jobs in the NCLB-inspired educational climate of the U.S. public school system. While MI’s mission does not appear to be to revolutionize the classroom or the educational process, one of the biggest oversights in the method is assessment; even the incongruence of standardized testing with MI’s demand for a variety of lesson approaches and teaching procedures is not answered more than peripherally by Gardner in his talk at Harvard. When Gardner was invited to speak with the BBC about improved test scores in England as a result of the implementation of MI methodology, he plainly responded, “I’m happy to take credit if the test scores go up, but I’m not going to take blame if they go down.” (Gardner, 2010) The reasons for his laissez-faire attitude become clear in “Inadequate Evidence for Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence Theories” by Waterhouse, in which she states that “because [Gardner’s] ‘basic paradigm’ clashes with that of psychometrics…and because testing ‘results may well be misused,’ he will not define testable subcomponents for the intelligences. Without such subcomponents, the intelligences are defined only by general descriptions…” (Waterhouse, 2006) I believe that as a result, Gardner is ironically, in refusing to contribute a concrete set of assessment methods that educators and schools can implement as a means of measuring the success of his methods, opening up learners to face the very standardized tests he claims to detest by avoiding the responsibility that a person in his position would be asked to take. Perhaps this is his un(self)admitted goal, because how can he be blamed for low student achievement when he washes his hands of consideration for learners as they face state-mandated testing, or when he denies the need for MI-centered evaluative tools which will show whether his method supports student progress and should be either used again or discarded?

MI appears to have at its core the intention of expanding the definition of “gifted” learners, a mission which Gardner hoped would result from dethroning classic psychometric testing as the sole means of evaluating students’ intellectual abilities and academic potential and allow students with “intelligences” other than verbal-linguistic or logical-mathematic to be considered “talented.” (Brualdi, 1996) I cannot see in the model how any attention is given to those learners who would most benefit from a broad-based and more socioculturally nuanced and honest conception of the notion of intelligence: those learners categorized – often erroneously and for a variety of non-academic/cognitive, cultural/discursive/socio-economic reasons – into Special Education programs and classrooms. Just as it seems much more difficult to engage the linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical or naturalist “intelligence” of learners whose literacy levels are lower than that assumed by the MI method, what consideration is given – and not simply the sort of all-inclusive, open-door, everyone-is-welcome consideration which purports to be moved by open mindedness but often veils an inability to truly “see” non-standard, non-average students – for learners who are disabled? Will a blind or deaf student receive equal consideration in lesson design which incorporates music or pictures? How will a quadriplegic student benefit from a lesson that assumes students will use their physical bodies in average ways to complete the task given? Add this to our already-growing list of reasons why MI is an incomplete, if not myopic and intentionally simplistic, method of language teaching which seems to offer little support to ELLs from lower socio-economic background or non-standard literacy/academic experiences in accessing the educational opportunities it promises, as a result of its seemingly “neutral” design which was called “ethnocentric” by its own creator.

I do not mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater (a regular admonition by Professor Macedo in the UMass Apling department), but I believe that Gardner’s following statement, simplistic and seemingly pure in its “amoral” vision of how MI can be implemented as an educational method and philosophy, says it all: “Multiple intelligences is really a way of thinking. It’s a way of thinking that recognizes the individual differences and realizes that different things can be taught in a lot of ways.” (Gardner, 2010) Since MI’s designer refuses to incorporate into his theory any other concessions to a more socioculturally and politically grounded way of seeing education, we will have to fill in the blanks, as should all educators who use the theory in developing their pedagogy and approach. We should add, first, to Gardner’s original definition of “intelligence” to create a new definition: “Intelligence is ‘the biopsychological potential to process information in certain ways which are recognized as valid in the dominant discourse, in order to solve problems effectively according to that discourse or fashion culturally-recognizable products that are valued in the dominant culture or community.”’

If we accept this new definition of “intelligence,” then perhaps we can go forward with Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory and derive from it a set of pedagogical practices, lesson design opportunities, and classroom approaches. This would at least be honest. It is because I strongly subscribe to James Paul Gee’s notion that intelligence, knowledge, aptitudes and literacy are socially and culturally situated (Gee, Discourses, Socio-Culturally Situated Educational Theory, and the Failure Problem, 1989) that I find myself required to make these concessions. I also think teachers should be honest with themselves in admitting that this method is much more of a response to teacher frustration and angst about the current state of affairs in the U.S. educational system as regards the pressure on schools and students to receive high standardized test scores (and the concomitant pressure this brings to bear on these teachers) than a true and thoughtful attempt to remedy the overlooking and underserving of so many subordinated and marginalized students lost in the U.S. educational system. If we as educators do not attempt to critically review the methods we use in our classrooms, no amount of Harvard speechifying is going to change the fact that we don’t really know what tools we’re using, what effect their use will and will not have, or how they should best be implemented – rather than to lighten the load of teachers and, inadvertently, reinforce the process of assimilation and subordination of non-standard identities, languages and voices in American public schools – to support those most in need.

Works Cited

Beare, K. (2012). Multiple Intelligences in the ESL Classroom. Retrieved from About.com: http://esl.about.com/od/teachingenglish/a/l_multiple.htm

Brualdi, A. C. (1996, September). Multiple Intelligences: Gardner’s Theory. ERIC/AE Digest Series EDO-TM-96-01 .

Cummins, J., & Swain, M. (1986). Bilingualism in education: Aspects of theory, research, and practice. London, U.K.: Longman.

Gardner, H. (2010, January 26). “Multiple Intelligences: The First 25 years” with Howard Gardner. Retrieved from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDtZEpf_SJ4&feature=related

Gee, J. P. (1989). Discourses, Socio-Culturally Situated Educational Theory, and the Failure Problem. Discourse Analysis, Critical Theory, and Educational Reform. Delaware: School of Education at the University of DE.

Gee, J. P. (1989). Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education , 171 (1), 5-17.

Mehta, S. (2002). Multiple Intelligences and how Children Learn: An Investigation in one Preschool Classroom. Masters Thesis, The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Child Development, Blacksburg, VA.

Waterhouse, L. (2006). Inadequate Evidence for Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence Theories. Educational Psychologist , 41 (4), 247-255.

Benevolence as an instrument of tyranny

In my Modern Political Thought class, we’ve begun reading Hegel, a philosopher whom some consider to be the first modern thinker because he was able to envisage modern society – with its conceptions of freedom, goodness, and morality – as deriving its values from the times in which it exists, its instantiation in the march of history. I confess I’m only reading background information and the Preface at the moment, so my interactions with the text are at the moment frankly borrowed from other, much more established folks than myself.

In “A Short History of Ethics,” MacIntyre uses a striking phrase that is particularly relevant to the question of education in neoliberal America today: “[Hegel] is keenly aware that circumstances alter virtues…Benevolence can be an instrument of tyranny.” (206) This is interesting in light of American society; nowadays, it’s clear that free-market values determine the way we conduct most social efforts, from commerce to employment standards to political campaigns to procedures of punishment. I believe this extends to how we perceive our responsibility for the well-being of the poor, the marginalized, the persecuted, the powerless. I thought about non-profit education, a system in which low-income and struggling individuals can come to complete a GED course, study to become citizens, and train for new job opportunities, in light of this statement.

While it might seem controversial, from my view, this “charitable” response to the inequities of modern society is, indeed, an illustration of the times we’re in. In an era of growing inequality in terms of income, access, and agency, the existence of service organizations, which purport to help empower individuals to make change in their own lives, seems to provide a helpful and powerful response. Organizations like Catholic Charities have no doubt done much good in American society, helping, as their website claims, over 9 million people in need per year (and of course the website shows a little girl of color looking up to, we suppose, her benefactor).

However, such agents of benevolence also act to alleviate to a large degree the guilt, the mild sense of social responsibility the wealthy, the educated, the lighter-skinned, retain as they watch the news, glance over at the “wrong side of town,” or walk past a homeless veteran asking for change. As those of us in power are soothed in these concerns, we relinquish our ability to think critically about the millions of people who struggle in poverty every day, who can’t feed their children adequately; we put down our power to change a situation that, frankly, benefits us over others, and assume that things have been taken care of. Why are so many people poor, powerless, in pain in the first place? And what changes can be made in the system that produces this human suffering and isolation?

The rich continue to get richer, the powerful more powerful, and the sociopolitical and economic status quo that subordinates certain members of our society crushes on. In effect, the tyrannical violence committed against tens of thousands of Americans for being brown, being poor, being women, being gay, continues forward. I think that once we reconsider the assumption that the form of capitalism – and democracy – that defines our country is best for its citizens, what once was charity and service to others may begin to seem suspiciously like a Band-Aid solution. If you believe that my critique of service organizations and charities is unwarranted or unfair, ask yourself this: Why is it that income inequality has grown so quickly since the 1970s? Why is standardized testing replacing hours of teaching that students truly need? Why are our prisons so full of people when the rest of the world’s are not? And what benefit do all of us – including those same non-profit organizations – continue to take through our “benevolent” inaction in the face of injustice?

We have not yet learned that the American way of doing things is just one way, one of both freedom and self-perpetuating hegemony of bloodlust and consumption, of unbelievable wealth and terrible, dehumanizing poverty. Ours is a tyranny we have been all too slow to recognize.

Solidarity and community when you’re a “non”  

As a non-parent, I’ve had different experiences of adulthood than most of my peers. Friends and family members complain of their child’s sleepless nights, the challenges of potty training, the unbelievable pain of childbirth, the unmatched joy of connecting with your baby and knowing she is yours and you are hers. My nieces and nephew are a big part of my life and I see them all the time; as an Auntie, you have special benefits like hanging with the kids when they’re relatively rested, relaxed, and happy to see you. And when I head home in the evening, I return to being a non-parent once again.

It occurred to me today that as a non-parent – and also a non-believer in any religiously-based deity – that I pass into and out of social circles where these things are not important, as my membership derives from being a daughter and a sister, a friend and a partner. But in terms of social activism, it’s more difficult for someone like me to find my entrée. I read a good book over the summer called “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities,” which gave advice to non-parents in the community who wish to support the progressive actions of their parent counterparts through a series of essays by people from all over the country with widely varying interests. Generally helpful, the stories brought home a lot of important issues, including, for example, the fact that child care is overlooked in social activism (even by organizers who may be parents), a point that leaders who are non-parents could keep in mind to be more inclusive of parents while planning meetings, organizing events, and involving community members in decision-making. Good stuff, though I still felt that there was a strong sense that the norm is “got-a-kid” and that as “don’t-got,” what is assumed is that I orient off of the mainstream and adapt my social behaviors accordingly. This extends to social activism and my membership in community groups; as a non-parent, I am eccentric, perhaps slightly suspect at first but eventually welcomed.

The reason why being a non-parent (or a non-anything else) is important to me is that it resonates with my work in (coincidentally) non-profit adult education, specifically with immigrants from all over the world: Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, China, Sri Lanka, and many other places. Their educational backgrounds range extensively as well – some are finishing their GED, while others have master’s degrees. Some are parents, some are not; some are married, some divorced, some single. I’ve taught 18-year-old’s up through people at retirement age. They are brought together by a desire to improve their socioeconomic position through job training, which they will apply as they become certified nursing assistants, pharmacists, and cash register operators. The other thing they have in common, of course, is that they are non-American.

In our Pedagogy in Urban Classrooms class at CUNY, we’ve been reading a book by the late Jean Anyon entitled “Radical Possibilities”; Anyon speaks of different ways that educators can contribute to real social and political change, as well as a transformation of our schools as well as ourselves, by participating in activism around economic justice. It’s a logical and well-thought-out text, with a lot of great takeaways, and Anyon’s words inspire and admonish the reader to change his perspective about what is possible. In discussing Anyon’s work, our class contributed suggestions, questions, confusions about the process of becoming politically active; as educators, we tend to think our place is in the classroom, while Anyon argues for teacher involvement in the greater community. My classmates brought up examples of how they used politically engaging content in their classes to help their students develop social agency, knowledge and skills they could use to apply in the outside world in advocating for their own needs and plans for their lives as future citizens and participants in the community. Their students, inner city non-whites, non-wealthy/middle-class, are bound together in their youth, their geography, their historically racialized status, their ways of being depicted by the rest of the country.

Yet I came home tonight with an unanswered question: What about the “non’s” of my diverse group of students, who differ by age, country of origin, race (and even in their countries, race means something different), language, marital status, parental status, gender, location in Boston, etc., etc…In short, could I try to make my teaching an event that inspires a similar sense of solidarity and political awareness? Is solidarity necessary at all for the development of what Paulo Freire called conscientization? In the classroom, there is a de facto community simply because my students have committed to the program they’re in; however, once they leave the room, they return to their respective communities, families, homes, religions, languages, and unique non-American-ness. An even bigger conundrum is the fact they came to this country to be freer, safer, and more hopeful than they were at home. What does solidarity – let alone political consciousness – mean when it’s confronting a system they’ve chosen over the one they started with? Why would they come together at all, simply because I told them that they were “non’s”?

I am stuck, thus, with both the issue of how to create space for activism in my classroom, as well as how to give this activism the chance to bloom in the hands of my adult students in the world outside. As a united, solidary group this most likely will not happen; as each of them are a “non” in her own way, this small starting point will travel with them into their places of being. I imagine my guidance in how to support their growth as democratic subjects in this country, irrespective of whether they are non-Americans, will come from my students themselves.

TBT: Teaching Philosophy – UMass Boston, Spring 2013

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is a responsive, reflective set of core values around transformative pedagogy:

  • A critical exploration of the political & sociohistorical dimensions of teaching in the U.S.
  • The co-construction of an inclusive, participatory space with students as a democratic process
  • A constant reengagement with my own praxis through the research, experience with diverse learner populations, and contribution to a community of reflective, critical educators

My Role as a Teacher. I am an expert mentor, working with adult ESL/ESOL learners of various backgrounds and identities through their narratives, goals, communities of experience, and culturally-situated understandings (funds of knowledge) that inform their visions of self and the world. I am Freirean in that I do not believe in the traditional banking model of knowledge, where the learner is passive. I strive to move beyond a skills-based view of education to an exploration of bidialectism, valuing home uses of language, literacy and knowledge while developing outside-the-home uses such as academic and critical literacies in an additive approach where learners engage in new understandings and cultural access points. Central to my teaching is the notion of praxis, a balance and internal dialogue between theory and pedagogical experience, as a means of continued self-development.

Theory and Approaches Underlying My Pedagogy. The language and learning theories supporting my teaching, appropriated from innatism, sociocultural theory, and social constructivism and from thinkers like Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux, focus on co-construction of knowledge, community- and agency-building in the classroom, and critical pedagogy. I draw from Communicative Language Teaching, differentiated instruction and multimodal approaches, interrelated pedagogical territories that view learners as whole, 3-D participants in their ecological surroundings. Successful informal and formal assessments evaluate student development of classroom-based literacies while activating their funds of knowledge to permit cultural individuation, recognition, and contribution.

Teaching in a Community. I strongly value mutual support and collaboration with other teachers and critical thinkers. My set of best practices is constantly being refined by my connection to educators dedicated to honest dialogue and change through transformational pedagogy and other critical views of our educational system’s place in American hegemony as a site of political struggle. I will continue my professional, theoretical, and critical development by beginning a PhD in 2014; in the meantime, I am currently working with nonmainstream students to better understand the diverse literacies, knowledge, and discourses with which they read their world.

“Truth Telling: Art in Search of Social Justice” – Nave Gallery, Somerville, MA

Since I believe that a lot of writing takes place in the mind, before a finger is laid to a key or a pen to paper, I am going to expand my definition of my daily commitment to writing to include observing visual texts and discourses in my environment that contribute to the ethos of AOTH, which is to explore our social environment and understand its parity with, or breaks from, democracy and the humanity we hope to live with.

Today I visited a volunteer-run gallery in Somerville, Massachusetts named The Nave Gallery, a one-room space housed in a Presbyterian Church near Tufts University. The exhibit that drew me there was entitled “Truth Telling: Art in Search of Social Justice” and the pictures I’ve posted below are a sampling of the diverse, bold art that I didn’t expect to find on a Saturday afternoon in a church.

Varying in medium (sculpture, painting, photography, digital art, textiles), subject (ranging from immigration to racism to Palestine to the female body to American symbology), voice, and message, the pieces hang together in their call to the viewer to take a second, third, tenth look, and compare his/her view to the inner self-view that develops in gazing. My personal favorite – of many interesting, sometimes introspective, sometimes outrageous pieces – is “Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror” by Neil Horsky. The artist took a simple book-based copy of one of the most sacred documents in American history and selected words and fragments to create a new narrative and a commentary on America then and today, at its creation and its current incarnation, a country imagined and a country in crisis in many ways. Even the act of cutting into such a document – similar to “Faded Glory” by Adrienne Sloane, the American flag formed from a mosaic of cut-outs of men hanging right-side-up and up-side-down – has a performative quality we take from the act of creating the art itself. Changing these hallowed symbols of American-ness – or in the case of other pieces, inviting the observer into a shared space of many voices, some screaming, some soft – creates a mischief, a sorrow at the loss of preciousness, and a rawness formed of violence, curiosity, perversion, and hope in a new narrative.

Liberty in Bones - Crown by Shaun Lynch

“Liberty in Bones – Crown”
by Shaun Lynch

Daily Catch, New Bedford March 6, 2007 by Nancy Crasco

“Daily Catch, New Bedford March 6, 2007”
by Nancy Crasco

Isn't our blood the same? by Chantal Bruchez-Hall

“Isn’t our blood the same?”
by Chantal Bruchez-Hall

Everyday is Christmas by Taryn Wells

“Everyday is Christmas”
by Taryn Wells

Faded Glory by Adrienne Sloane

“Faded Glory”
by Adrienne Sloane

Driving Miss Daisy Revisited by David Feingold

“Driving Miss Daisy Revisited”
by David Feingold

El Pocos  by Steven Stark

“El Pocos”
by Steven Stark

Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror by Neil Horksy

“Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror”
by Neil Horksy

Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror by Neil Horksy

“Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror”
by Neil Horksy

Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror by Neil Horksy

“Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror”
by Neil Horksy

Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror by Neil Horksy

“Constitution Found Poetry: A Nook We Can Mirror”
by Neil Horksy

Deep calls to Deep by Claire Roll

“Deep calls to Deep”
by Claire Roll

Storm by Mike Spencer

by Mike Spencer

The primacy of the primal

My friend and I were in Chinatown in downtown Boston tonight at what has become something of a weekly dinner, discussing existence, strangeness of human society, and online dating (we usually cover quite a range). As is typical for us, we splash around in light topics (like Rafael Nadal’s upcoming appendix surgery) and then dive into Locke, Hobbes, Hegel, and Foucault in a move to the deep end – good conversations that we both get a lot out of (though for me these thinkers and their eminent works are very new).

Tonight we dug into the interesting topic of physicality, carnality, by which I don’t mean sexuality per se so much as the physical dimensions of our existence as human beings. We both struggle with the fact of our physicality, for different reasons. My friend is troubled that we should be ruled – at times to the point of irrationality – by our primal desires for sex, food, sleep, and other “animal” needs that must be satisfied. She observed that these drives seem to be put front and center in modern life, stating that we seem to be compelled to prioritize sex, for example, over true connection on all levels allowing the gratification of these base impulses to take priority in our thoughts and common discourse over, say, the generation of ideas and the interrogation of reality. In short, my friend thinks we allow these “lower” desires to occupy most of our time and thought when in fact we are capable of much more.

I agree with this, for the most part, and in thinking about it, I in turn wondered what cultural shifts have occurred to create this increased focus on the primal in our modern-day consciousness. And it occurred to me that in our world, advertising fights for our dollars by converting our primal desires into a social discourse of need in a form of language about our biological imperatives to get food, make babies, feel wanted, and so on. Advertising draws upon these near-universal desires, purporting to give us an answer in the form of a product for purchase. Feeling lonely? Try a juice cleanse to make your skin look nicer (and younger, and more desirable, and more likely to draw the attention of potential partners). Hungry? Get in on the all-you-can-pasta-buffet-for-seven-weeks at Olive Garden. The products are endless, though the desires they pretend to satisfy are few in number.

Advertising’s influence in modern society has become more prevalent as computers, cell phones, tablets, televisions, and other screen-based forms of input pervade nearly every moment of social existence. We get these messages all the time as we move in subways, malls, reception areas, and other public spaces, messages that tell us to change, to be better, to improve, to be more marketable and competitive. And it has become a cultural given that we will reflect on what we lack – which on a universal level is the object of our primal desires – and strive with our dollars and time to win out over these desires once and for all. With such obsession about our carnal selves, we lose a sense of the imagined, the creative, the intellectual. We should be asking why we see our social environment as a public square to satisfy our carnal needs, crowding out all other possibilities, in the first place.