Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 28, 2008

The courage to be like Ms. Lloyd: Critical pedagogy in practice

Filed under: Chris Crutcher/Author Study — scrollman @ 8:32 am

I’m wondering how many teachers and future teachers in this class will bring books into the classroom that might potentially cause the type of community uproar that Warren Peece caused in Sledding Hill.  Will the lack of tenure scare new teachers into conforming to their department’s potentially rigid and obsolete curriculum?  When push comes to shove, will we put our jobs on the line to teach in the way we believe is best, or will we choose the many “safe” books out there that kids won’t read, but that administrators and parents will be more comfortable with.  From my own personal experience, even with tenure, administrators can still make your life miserable, even if they can’t take your job away.  When you begin to push the barriers of what is deemed acceptable, you bring upon yourself an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism.  It takes true courage and perserverence to be a teacher like Ms. Lloyd, and your students will love you for it.  You will have influenced their lives in ways that you wouldn’t think possible.  But there is a price to be paid for this type of pedagogy.  How many of us are willing to sacrifice our own jobs and peace of mind to do what we think is right?  To me, this is the essential question for any teacher who reads Crutcher.

Jonathan

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10 Comments »

  1. Jon, you ask who would have the courage (or stupidity) to do what Mrs. Lloyd does? I did. And the price was, for a time, unbearable. I’d like to tell that story tonight to those who may not know that I was in exactly the position Mrs. Lloyd finds herself in in the novel. Do check out PABBIS (see below) to see what we are and I was up against. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 28, 2008 @ 8:57 am

  2. Jon: you raise an important point that I think often gets swept under the table. Many teachers don’t even considering doing or using anything in their classroom that would cause a mild controversy, let alone something far greater. To be honest, the obsession with censorship in schools is unsettling, particularly as it is presented in this story, in which there appears to be no separation between the town’s education system and the town’s church. I think this is absurd and unfair. Not only is the education system allowing and condoning the interference of the church, but the church is assuming that everyone is the school does or should live by their code of conduct. Unfortunately, I think this is a much greater conflict than many realize. I know there is a church in my hometown that is striving to have the kind of influence that the church had over Eddie and his peers in SH. I fear for the kids who will be influenced by such a narrow minded view of the world. Goodbye to Sex Ed, creative writing, etc. I will never allow my children to attend these schools and I never want to work in one. However, that doesn’t help in solving the problem at all, other than acknowledging that ethically, mixing religion and education in public school is problematic. And I don’t want anyone to think that I am anti-religious, because I am not at all. But I think there is a time and place for religious discourses and school is not one of those places.

    -Mandy

    Comment by mandygrl101 — February 28, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  3. Provocative post, Jon. Before I respond, I want to say thank you, Karen, for sharing your story with us. Solvay’s loss is our gain. Thank you.

    Jon asks, “Will we put our jobs on the line to teach in the way we believe is best”? Sometimes we forget that teaching is a job. Not that it’s work, but that it’s a job. It’s how we pay for food, housing, clothing. It’s how we get health care for ourselves and our families. Keeping this in mind, I ask myself would I compromise my integrity as a teacher in order to keep my job – my income, my home, my health care benefits?

    I don’t know, but I think we have to include this aspect of teaching as a job in the equation.

    -Sarah

    Comment by sostrom — February 28, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

  4. I agree absolutely Sarah and that was a major factor in why I was so terrified when I had the real prospect of losing my livelihood with nothing in reserve. I appreciate your comment. I felt over-exposed tonight and wish we had had more time to process this topic. And of course for everything else. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 28, 2008 @ 11:05 pm

  5. Jon, I think you’ve really made a very practical point, too. And I want to thank you as well, Karen, for sharing tonight. You are a local hero. Two things come to mind.

    First, lyrics to a song by Rage Against the Machine (“Killing in the Name of”) that go… “some of those that work forces/are the same that burn crosses… and now you do what they told ya.” The song is very hostile, as is probably obvious, and it is an example of music that is inspiring and frightening at the same time. Inspiring because it gives us a push to NOT do what “they” told us. But are we the “they” or are we the “you?” I guess that’s the choice we’re talking about. And that’s why it’s so frightening. It’s easy to criticize, but it’s another thing to make that decision.

    Sarah, I completely see what you’re saying and I think you make a very important observation: that we are not the only ones that are affected by the result of our choices. Children, families, marriages, careers, reputations….

    Second, Pink Floyd’s THE WALL: the part in the movie where the school children are on a conveyor belt being carried to a meat grinder. (Sorry if I spoiled that for any non-Floyd fans. but, to be honest, we all know I’m a spoiler. I’ve tried to stop watching movies until they’re out on DVD so that I don’t accidentally crying-game people.) “We don’t need your education/We don’t need your thought control… teacher/leave them kids alone.”

    Why is it that faceless kids are screaming to be able to think independently, but it’s the ones with very distinct faces that press charges? Is this because the “faceless kid” is a theory? Do kids actually want to be “left alone,” or is it the middle age rock star that is experiencing a second youth-this time out of control-that is bemoaning the effort of our education system to control him? (Because now he doesn’t have the skills to control himself?) Are the kids that press charges destined to become the “faceless kids” only after they have become old enough to recognize their attempts to undermine adulthood by prolonging their childhood well into their thirties?

    Karen,
    your story is incredibly brave and inspiring.

    I am interested in the fact that your career turned from Solvay to Fowler, a school that is notorious in Syracuse for being one of the most violent of city schools. Your work at Fowler must have been incredibly different in the wake of your leave from Solvay. Would you talk to us a little about finding a place at this new school?

    I agree with Kari’s comment tonight that you should write a book. You have so many articles to use, and so much to say. Please make this a part of our local and nationwide history so that we may track the course of our progress in years to come.

    Joyce

    Comment by joycehansen — February 28, 2008 @ 11:59 pm

  6. Joyce, thank you so much for these comments. They make me cry. You are absolutely on target w/these music references. Absolutely. The transition at that stage of my career was difficult for reasons I will share. I can talk about that, yes. I appreciate your encouragement to write about this experience. Actually I have done that in my dissertation which was an outgrowth of the case against me in some significant ways.

    The hardest thing about the Solvay “case,” was being portrayed in the media as a “smut purveyor.” Can you imagine?? Here mine was the most rigorous classroom where students read everything from Thos. Aquinas (seriously!) to Jonathan Kozol, from Jane Austen to William Wordsworth.

    I truly came to appreciate, though, the French theorist, Foucault, when I read him later in grad school. His notion of “discipline and punish” and his metaphor of the Panopticon–clarified for me the constant surveillance that marked my years as a public school teacher. Reading Foucault really heloped me to understand. He made perfect sense to me even though he was writing about the penal system. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 29, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  7. What an interesting blog! Kia ora from New Zealand,

    I came across it through my Google Alerts for Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy. I think that you all may enjoy some of the material contained in my own website – which you are free to use as a resource. It covers issues such as:

    Critical Theory
    Critical Theorists
    Critical Practice (Praxis)
    Critical Pedagogy
    Critical Education Theory
    Colonisation
    Postcolonialism
    Postmodernism
    Indigenous Studies
    Critical Psychology
    Cultural Studies
    Critical Aesthetics
    Hegemony,
    Academic Programme Development
    Sustainable Design
    Critical Design etc. etc.

    The website at: http://www.TonyWardEdu.com contains more than 60 (absolutely free) downloadable and fully illustrated PDFs on all of these topics and more offered to students from the primer level, up to PhD. It also has a set of extensive bibliographies and related web links in all of these areas.

    Have a look at it and perhaps bring it to the attention of your friends and colleagues for them to use as a resource.

    There is no catch!

    It’s just that I an retired (after teaching “against the grain” at tertiary level for forty years) and want to pass on the knowledge and experience acquired in 40 years of University teaching. All that I ask in return, is that you and they let me know what you think about the website and cite me for any material that may be downloaded and/or used.

    I would also appreciate a link to my site from your own so that others may come to know about it and use it.

    Many thanks and best wishes

    Dr. Tony Ward Dip.Arch. (Birm)
    Academic Programme, Tertiary Education and Sustainable Design Consultant

    (Ph) (07) 307 2245
    (m) 027 22 66 563
    (e) tonyward.transform@xtra.co.nz

    Comment by wairere — February 29, 2008 @ 11:15 am

  8. Karen!

    I referenced Bentham’s prison idea in my class with Karla (Dr. Alwes) this summer past after reading Wordsworth’s “Nutting!” The feeling of being under surveilence is incredibly frightening, and with so much “reality” television, hidden advertisement and product placement, “candid” camera techniques and celebrity expose— lately it’s becoming difficult to separate paranoia and jusitified fear. This may sound incredibly sad and disturbed, and perhaps it is. I can’t help but thing of THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH.

    Joyce

    Comment by joycehansen — February 29, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  9. This is VERY interesting stuff. One thing I always tell teachers about using my work or the work of other authors who push the edge sometimes, is “Don’t threaten your own livlihood.” But I think it’s a smart thing sometimes to get teachers together at the beginning of any given year and let administrators know what they expect from them. A good administration supports teachers. They understand that teachers are experts in their fields, which includes content but it also includes the psychology of his or her classroom. Teachers have read hundreds, sometimes thousands of books deciding what to use. They have a huge pool of students and student problems from which to make curriculum decisions. Depending on the nature of the administration, it can accept or reject these statements, but conservative administrations are forever telling teachers what they expect and they don’t often hear from teachers what THEY expect. Whether they respond to it in a positive way or not, they need to hear it. Sometimes the really important element isn’t the law, it’s the power coming from the teaching community; the personal power of teachers themselves.

    When I was young my father was the chairman of the school board; a man who considered himself hugely conservative. But he’s have run a nail through his eye before he’d have allowed a book to be banned on his watch and he was a powerful believer for the separation of church and state, for the benefit of both the church AND the state. The reverend Tarter was my sixth grade teacher. He brought his religious beliefs right into the classroom. There was nothing about challenging books because no one thought of it, but the guy was a tyrant. And his name really was Tarter. Hey, a guy has to get even, right? “Conservative” has taken on a whole new meaning.

    Comment by Chris Crutcher — March 4, 2008 @ 5:59 am

  10. I remember my first real experience with censorship. I was in junior high, and I had just learned about Robert Mapplethorpe,

    http://www.mapplethorpe.org/index.html

    In particular, I had stumbled upon his Self Portrait with bull whip, and his crucifix work.

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n9_v42/ai_8970383

    I’m not sure what this says about the kind of kid I was, but I wasn’t the only one standing outside class, reading about Mapplethorpe and nervously giggling. This was the first time I was exposed to the idea that not everyone agrees on what art is. Additionally, we (my Mapplethorpian buddies) were QUITE aware intrinsically that it wasn’t okay for a topic like this to be talked about in school, and that if a teacher caught us, we would be punished.

    PUNISHED! For learning! About the debate over what constitutes art!

    I’m saying all this to point out that kids are learning about these things ON THEIR OWN. And that if a teacher had been willing to sit down with my friends and I and discuss Mapplethorpe, I bet we would have gotten a whole lot more out of the that experience.

    Certainly Mapplethorpe is an exception, and I would never bring him into a classroom to start a discussion… but the thought remains, when is it okay for a teacher to address a student’s personal learning in a meaningful way- especially when that kind of address could be seen as a red flag? If a student is reading a book on their own, a book that could very much benefit from a discussion, but that book is also of this kind of sensitive nature… when is it okay to take a minute and talk it out?

    Joyce

    Comment by joycehansen — March 4, 2008 @ 9:20 am


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