In posting this week's forum, I had trouble with the fonts. Here's Jane's post:
In chapter 9 Gee asserts that humans in the developed world, whose basic needs have been met, have first world needs that dominate their lives. A need for control, belonging, respect, meaning and agency.The conditions in which humans evolved no longer exist, now we live in a modern world where many feel a lack of agency; we are no longer actors in our own productions, but mere spectators of the rich, famous and powerful. How do we as educators help our students regain a sense of agency?
How does one marry institutional and human goals in a world where global dynamics trump local influence? Where human beings and their needs and wants are trumped by the needs of the corporate institutions. Where people see these institutions as increasingly unfair and unresponsive to the humans they serve. Two reasons that institutions are often caught in a negative reflective circle is that they can not quickly unfreeze their frozen thought patterns and are increasingly unable to mediate between local goals and larger global institutional goals. This leads me back to our public educational systems in the good old U.S.A.
Whether reading statistics in a newspaper or hearing about more schools closing, I am heartbroken that with so many well intentioned people involved in education we seem unable as a nation to create schools that serve all of our citizens. In the face of daunting social ills, there are stories of experimental schools all over our country that are succeeding. But even here in Fort Collins with so many resources, we are losing many children. Children who feel defeated by a system stacked against them products of fact free stories that are promulgated by those in power. The story that so many pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and make something out of nothing. SO for the many children who are not learning, for whatever reasons, how do we change our institutions to create more learning, more equity,and more agency?
This post reminds me heavily of a John Oliver episode about 'Sex Education.' You're probably thinking, wait what? Why would that make you think of sex education? How does that even relate to this topic? Well, it does, I promise. He was trying to investigate what exactly is being taught in our school systems throughout the country in regards to this topic. The fact of the matter is, it's hard to get down to that answer because there are no regulations on what schools have to teach, if they have to teach anything at all. Personally coming from a high school where large government tax breaks were given since 'Abstinence only' was the "sex education" provided, this clearly demonstrates schools choosing to not provide agency for students. How is one supposed to have agency about a topic when no knowledge is ever accurately provided (emphasis on accurate here)?
In order to overcome some district regulations surrounding sex ed, some teachers in the video were forced to become creative. And in order to provide our students with the agency they will need to succeed, then creativity is what is needed. In core classes, I think this could be achieved through connected learning. Throughout each vignette from our previous readings, you read about a teacher who had to learn a new skill so that their students could become agents. If we want our students to succeed, we have to find ways around those institutional norms, while not breaking the rules, in order to provide our students with what they need.
In response to your last paragraph, when does the time come to break the rules? What would that look like? How could the rule-breakers cope with the fallout? (I'm thinking more broadly than your excellent example.)
Well, one, I love your opening lines. That was an interesting connection you made and not something I would have thought about. When I think about student agency, I tend to think about it inside the classroom or in terms of like social justice (issues in the world). It makes sense, though, that you connected it to something like sex ed. It does seriously limit students' agency if we keep the information from them--or try at least--and I feel like we are failing in our jobs as teachers if we do that. It seems like censorship at it's worst. I was heartened by the second half of your post, however. It helps to know that there are teachers who are willing to subvert authority and do what they believe to be right. I think teachers have to be advocates for students if we want change to occur.
I also agree with you that creativity and connected learning are important aspects of ensuring/teaching agency in our classrooms. It's not just about giving the students the information, though that is step one. It's also about showing them the ways in which they can then use that information to have power in their own lives and affect change in the world around them. Technology is a powerful tool to help students see how they can have an impact on the wider world and to see how they are in a global community with connections running all throughout it.
If students believe they have agency, then they are more likely to have success as adults because they believe their actions have consequences--good and bad. They must believe their work will lead to desired goals. This belief in personal agency is not easily attained for those who grow up in less privileged communities. In order to attain agency, Gee argues two things are necessary. First, “They need to believe their effective actions can have successful outcomes and that the outcomes of the game are not already predetermined by actions of a select few. Second, the need to be members of a community or social group that models for them what counts as effective action and that demonstrates to them the actions of the community or group can be effective and will not be undermined by others with special privileges or access” (81). In these communities where opportunity seems less possible, adolescents see adults work hard with little result. Those in the community who are successful tend to then leave community completely. These communities can be incredibly insular, leaving little room for young adults to see what options exist for those outside of the community. This is especially true in poor, rural communities. These problems are also prominent in urban communities populated by most black and Latino individuals, as well as on Indian reservations. For many people it is apparent that our society has preferences. With these factors at play, how do we help these students see their actions have potential when so much is stacked up against them? Do we encourage them to fight back against the system? Shouldn’t our students be as outraged and we are?
Today in the United States the education system is still alarmingly segregated by race and socioeconomic background. I absolutely believe actively seeking to desegregate schools will make a big difference in helping students develop agency. This will take effort, including busing students out of their communities. Only good things can come from this. Students will have the opportunity to leave those insular communities and see the opportunities that are made available to the privileged few. By the simple act of exposing what is possible as a result of their education, these students can then fight to attain that for themselves. They can feel outrage for their community and become empowered to seek the same goals as their privileged peers. For those students who are privileged, they need to be made aware that their experiences are not the norm. We want these students to be outraged by their privilege. We need to make them empathetic individuals who are conscious of the way the majority live, so they can fight for the education/success of their peers. They need to actually see those outside out their privileged community as their true peers. Equity in education is not going to happen overnight. From Gee we know institutions change very slowly, so changing the education system in America is going to take many, many years. We need to instill social responsibility in generations of students, so we can continually work to change these frozen institutions.
Could digital tools be an alternative form of "busing" in some instances? (I'm not sure.)
I was struck by how obvious and simple Gee’s examination of the institution was – he put so well the ways in which our world, especially the educational world, works – but I don’t think I would have been able to pinpoint it so elegantly myself! I was also gladdened to see that Gee thinks we are beginning to change the ‘institution’ of education – but I wonder if it is really for the better. No Child Left Behind was meant to balance the privileged and under privileged school systems, as was the implementation of School of Choice – but, as Gee would say, it was just replacing one solution for a problem with another solution to freeze into place without really changing the institution itself.
I think one of my take-aways from Gee is the thought that online technologies provide a great resource for people to both buck the institution and have agency while continuing to be a connected part of the community. That community is more global, generally speaking – but I think using digital tools to help students connect could address some of the issues Hannah raises as well. Students may not want to be bused out of their communities (sometimes equating hours of commute time each day), leaving communities could mean a loss of communal culture (which may be good or bad) and, as Gee suggests, institutionalized assumptions about race and class may still act as a barrier to these students in the classroom. By using communities on the web, like the Do Now site, we give students connections to the global world but in a small community. We can build empathetic reactions to those who are different to us, expose students to the larger world outside of their communities, and connect it back to something more local. Putting the power in the hands of the students to maybe do a research project about something in their community to share out on the web gives students agency, a link to their community, and further exposes students to the realities of the world – whether they are privileged or not, every community has something to offer our students if we just show them how.
Maybe that’s a scenario to add to our “dream school world” we created a couple of weeks ago, but I can see digital technologies and web access being a great asset in leveling the playing field. If students can feel like they can be successful and gain agency by taking part in something local it may help negate some of the ‘odds stacked against them’ type of mentality.
Ooo--great minds think alike. I asked Hannah almost the same question as you did ("Can digital tools be a form of "busing"?).
Also, I can't wait for you to read a chapter in our upcoming book that looks at how a program did exactly what you're describing. More great minds coming up!
Oh, Sarah. This a marvelous response. I love how you took my concept, which is not easy (at all) thing to implement, and used digital media to make it something we could implement right now. You're right Do Now is absolutely a site that takes students out of their communities and plants them in a global community. That website makes them aware of issues that are relevant to their experiences as teens. It gives them opportunities to engage with teens from other communities WITHOUT having to bus them two hours away! What you suggest in your post here could be implemented tomorrow in a classroom. Students can stay in their community while having access to a diverse set of opportunities. While desegregating schools is important, it's a sticky issue that takes time and may not be possible at this time. Isn't it amazing how digital media has the potential to create new awesome solutions? The things you are brainstorming aren't even a "next best option" but something really cool in and of themselves.
I think that connected learning seems to be a way to give students who feel agentless in a slowly defrosting institution some form of control and power over their own learning. I feel that the interest driven and production centered aspects of connected learning is what really helps to give those students the agency that they need and/or want over their own learning. They are able to discover and produce on mostly their own terms, and then they can share it with a larger community online that Gee talks about, which gives them a greater sense of belonging, contributing, and agency.
This would help our students to see that they can work within the institutions to work against the frozen thinking that has occurred. Instead of teaching students to become what some of the institutions want them to be, such as good consumers and not so much innovators, they can become the creators of new works or learn that they have the power and control to create and produce. Students can understand that there is frozen thinking and by using connected learning in the classroom they will hopefully learn to discover the abilities that they have to begin to unfreeze this stagnant mentality. This may help to change the privileging of what class/status over another in schooling. By not skill and drilling students on test, pegging them into a curriculum that allows them to simply be passed on to the next grade, or simply giving up on them, connected learning in the classroom might help to change the mentality of those students: to allow them to see the great potential that they have within themselves to do great things. This in turn can change the mentality of the institutions that see these students as one kind of group. They could see that if you give students a chance to learn in this way, real learning can occur.
I'm going to top you rant.
James, Really solid ideas here. What I would like to ask though, is what specific ways would you teach students to unfreeze the thinking with connected learning?
I think often we turn to that model of teaching, but don't really jump into the specifics. What does your class look like? Are all types of connected learning emphasized or only a few specifically? Feel free to elaborate!
I just like hearing about detailed activities you may try to give me ideas for my own classroom.
Right on. Could teachers take advantage of the same tools to fight the "institution" (e.g., punitive policies, accountability measures, etc.) that seem to have taken a stranglehold on their work?
The concept of "agency" has so many applications, we could easily discuss potential solutions and consequences all semester if we wanted. The agency chapter reminded me of a class I took senior year of high school called Service Learning, in which I had administrative permission to leave school early to serve at a community outreach program of my choice. I chose a headstart program and a children's hospital, both of which were eye-opening in their exposure of my privilege and the importance of education. For one thing, these programs showed me a hell of a lot more diversity than what I saw in my school - my town was very WASPy and I didn't have any friends who were not white and upper middle class until college. The course ended with a service project in Appalachia building houses, but the feasibility of that program may not be realistic for all high schools.
Here's another somewhat radical idea for learning agency: I don't know if it would be applicable at a high school level or maybe it would be more appropriate for college, but I so wish there were "life skills" courses available to teach basic adult tasks like paying your taxes, balancing a checkbook, interview techniques, etc. Also something I wish could be a requirement: to work in the food service or some kind of customer service job for a semester. No better way to debunk privileged mindsets and basic common decency than working in a service environment. Whether or not that is realistic I don't know - but that was one of my first thoughts when starting this chapter on agency as it relates to education.
As a former Dept. of Vocational Rehabilitation Independent Contractor for people of 18 and over (65 YEARS OLD) with a disability for the State of Colorado, there are skills for those who want to seek jobs and training. When I am not in school getting my education or teaching , I did tutoring, helped with job training skills, mock interviews, built resumes, and had a case load of 5---what I could handle by myself--- and wrote cover letters for people, built resumes, and looked for employment for people who wanted to get jobs, on top of teaching and being an “Agent.”
But this is not the same for those who do not have a disability or choose not to identify. It is also not true for a majority of the students I have encountered in K-12, student-veterans or veterans who are students, Residential Treatment Centers I’ve taught in, or Community Colleges, which some define as “Remedial” Education or the stepping stone before you are accepted into the “Ivory Tower.”
Unfortunately, the transition programs for certain schools do not communicate with parents or "agencies" once they turn 18 and many “Agencies,” do not work well for the less fortunate or people who might have a different path of life. College should not be the “one size fits all” stop before one realizes the debt and cost. Not all are going to do well in “STEM” or the “2020” goals that are set. College is not a possibility for some, and K-12 and colleges need to put their “agencies” and “agent” aside and focus on reality. Institution and K-12 need to collaborate starting at the second grade. The rate of students who cannot read in second grade have a much higher chance of not receiving a diploma and be incarcerated.
Educators from all fields need to stop assuming that each student needs to attend college because that may not be their “agency” in where they can be successful. The communication piece between K-12 and colleges is something I will not let go because I believe if you are going to be an agent, then you are the agency to help break barriers kids and parents face that many might not understand. Education and teaching s a field where you have the “agency” to make a change in some way, but your “agency” needs to move beyond the focus of teaching only the kids that need to be somewhere by “2020.” Not all want to go to college or a four year, and why does college have to be the end goal for someone who chooses this is not their path. Agent—Individual-- or “Agency,” which needs to be termed as a group of people who seek the best for each person or students they teach plays a vital impact on lives.
If suspension, expulsion, and kicking students out so “agencies” do not have to deal with them based upon how they will make their school or test look, than nothing will ever change. Politics, policies, and people who make the decisions on which schools will get the money for producing the “best student(s)” is not working. Look at the literacy rates and prison systems. College is not for everyone, and the word “agency” needs to start focusing on collaboration between career and technical fields when students are young and show them there is opportunities available.
This term, “Agency,” needs to be used as a term that defines your philosophy of being an Educator who is trying to break down barriers for “all” people and students from any ages; the students who graduate with a diploma, walk across the stage for a CTE degrees---in some instance make twice as much with someone with a MA and in a field they enjoy---to the kids and adults who were not so lucky need “Agencies.”
“Agencies” work and supply people and children with resources to help them succeed. If we use the term “agency,” then I suggest using it in the context of what the term “Agency” truly means in your role as an Educator. Gee has some good points, but the term and efficacy behind it goes much deeper.
Amen..one size does not fit all. As a teacher at an AVID school that promotes the idea that everyone can go to college, I find a wide gap between the can and the should. If we as teachers want to promote this idea of agency, it has to include the idea of breaking down barriers on all fronts including the life choices that are students consider while with us and later.
You bring up some interesting points about how agency has taken a different definition in which have been using in this class and that other scholars have been using it. Lately, it has been about the students taking their own education into their own hands, by giving them the tools and resources to be the "masters of their own destiny" in their education and future careers. But we too, as educators, must also be the student's "agents" of change. Though I can put my own money in the stock market and try to get the best investment from it on my own, I would probably be more successful if I were to use an "agent"/stock broker who actually has more knowledge and skill at this sort of thing.
Perhaps the same thing could be said about our future students and our impact in their future life-paths. They might want something else, like going to a technical school, instead of following what the majority of society believes is the best route to take such as a four-year university. So, we as agents of change can still give those students their own "agency" to take control of their own education to pursue the technical job that they may want to do. If our student wants to be the contractor, mechanic, electrician, nurse, than who are we to say that they should go to a four-year school in order to get this done. We can give them the knowledge, resources, and point them in the right direction to pursue that life goal if that is what they want. And if in the middle they decide to change, which I'm sure they will, then we can still be their "agents" to give the the "agency" to pursue what they wish to pursue.
It seems like it can take two (educator and student) to be the agents of change and to give agency to the student to learn how and what they want to learn.
Beth, I completely agree with the idea that students should be exposed to service industries as a way to introduce them to the ways in which the world sometimes works. I think one of the greater things for giving students agency, though, is rather than force then into something that will give them humility or empathy or life skills, is listening to them. What are their interests? Passions? Fears? Regrets? Etc...by understanding how our students think, and giving them a venue in which they can voice without repercussions, they will gain agency to follow their own interests. As teachers I feel that we have a responsibility to give our students power over their own choices. Provide parameters (loose ones) and let them shape their decisions to fit those parameters, whether in a project or presentation or community outreach or whatever it may be....students who feel like they had a say in what they did feel empowered and more pride in the work they complete.
Hmm...."interest-driven" learning, anyone?
Feeling supper discouraged and bummed about teaching today, and especially after reading some of these posts. Just one of those days, I suppose. I decided to just google, "when students want to change the world" in response to Jane's post this week. I didn't think I would be inspired by several different things I found and thought of, but I figured I would share what did find!
Cool! One of my collaborative projects in a previous course:
Probably one of the most beautiful souls on this planet, Malala Yousafzai, opens up about her views on girls' education and her recently released documentary:
The article I originally found in my google search, and the twitter feed that went along with it (#geniushour):
Just needed some refreshing resources and articles to help me remember the positives about teaching and the wonderfully brilliant outcomes it can have with young adults.
If you want something positive, I suggest going to this at the Lory Student Center from 7-8 tonight. Maysoon Zayid is awesome, and watch this TedTalk below.
This is free for CSU students.
Thu 10/8/2015 7:00 PM MT
Lory Student Center Grand Ballroom
Maysoon Zayid is a Palestinian-American actress, comedian, known as one of America's first Muslim women comedians and the first person ever to perform standup in Israel and Jordan. Wikipedia
Born: 1974, New Jersey
Education: Arizona State University
Movies: The Arab-American Comedy Tour
Medium: Stand-up comedy, Television, Film
I skimmed through the article that you attached and inspiring it is (Yoda I am)! When the author discusses the changes in which this hashtag, #geniushour, has brought about is truly remarkable. It really reminds me of Gee's notion of how we get stuck in this institutions and are unable to make changes because of them. This example illustrates exactly how people who are motivated can circumnavigate around those institutions to collaborate and truly make a difference. This example also reminded me of something that Gardner says, who wrote The App Generation, which is the book that I'm currently reading for bookclub. He notes that "digital natives" - or people who've been surrounded by technology their whole lives- are typically very lazy and narcissistic when it comes to using social media. It warms my heart to know that this can be disproved, since he continues to stress (and frankly is rather annoying about it) how this generation is taking a back seat on using technology with a purpose.
Jane, these are questions I wonder about on a daily basis, and given the institutionalized perspective Gee presents, there is a part of me that feels strongly about challenging the systems that tend to hold students back into these spaces that propagate the voicelessness and inequity that has existed in the educational system since it established this factory model of teaching. I think that public education is literally invested into programs (e.g. various assessment models and STEM to name a few) that are perpetuating the degradation of actual learning. Do I think that a stronger focus on technology, sciences and math are important? Absolutely; but stronger focus on one area of learning should not come at the expense of others, or the overall purpose of education.
To really unpack where change is necessary, it is important to assess what has been undercut and undermined in the process. As an elementary teacher, I see the systemic problems from the very beginning. In a meeting this morning we were discussing the “Kindergarten Readiness Assessment” and I reflected that when I was a kid, I remember K being a space to build my social and emotional skills; I learned how to play cooperatively and how to manage my egocentricism in balance with others. I was reminded of what Fred Rogers said about the subject of play as it is “often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” This snapshot of where we currently are in education—pushing developmentally inappropriate standards onto students to prepare them for a globally competitive market—is the first place where we need to look in this convoluted process of unraveling our corporately sponsored systems. To say we need to get “special interests” out of education would be an understatement, and it’s only the beginning…
So, what can I do now? I have to continue to operate in the machine, and I feel fortunate to be above the fray and in a school district that still values some of the fundamental elements of education: the arts. I have held to the notion that students exploring the many facets of expressive education (the arts) both builds creativity but equally addresses the development of critical thinking. Learning how to express and communicate is the absolute foundation of agency, and interestingly enough the programs that were in place to aid in this development are typically the fluff that is the first to go in an age of hyper-focus on reading-writing-arithmetic. We are taking away the public spaces where students can examine who they are, and having a strong sense of identity is equally important in establishing agency... (more)
What I do specifically to address the vacancies that Jane pointed out involve an aspect of agency and inequality that is severely deficient in education—and that is empathy. The skill of teaching students to care, not simply about themselves but others, and not just care, but situate themselves in spaces of discrimination, gentrification, racism, etc. is at the heart of students acquiring agency. I have seen this hole as the passion that drives the curriculum I create for my students. In my 4th grade classes we have been talking about discrimination and division (citing the holocaust and the Berlin Wall) to help students contextualize perspective. We also explored the art or Banksy and when charged with the task to create a graffiti message that spoke to how one would feel and what message would be expressed through art, the power of having students think critically about life from another perspective showed in the messages they came up with. One student’s wall simply said “do the right thing.” I hope to unpack this further in the weeks to come. Next week in second grade, we will talk about Columbus, honestly, and look at his “achievements” from the perspective of the indigenous populations. It is my hope that these exercises will help students understand not only the perspective of others, but give these kids I teach (ones that tend to hold positions of power and agency) to bring their voices to the conversation of agency and inequality. Building this foundation from the start is what I hope will be the power behind the force that needs to be sweeping through education to impact the change that we so desperately need to find.
As someone who wants to use critical pedagogy in my classroom, I often think about how to teach my students about the power structures in place in the world while still maintaining the idea that they have agency within those structures. It can feel really overwhelming and defeating when you start looking at the systems that you operate within and look what what governs them and the world around you. But I never want students to feel like it's hopeless, like they can't do anything. I always try to point to the idea that learning how to think, read, and write critically is the first step towards affecting change. It is my hope that students begin questioning the systems and power structures in place--not to just question them, but to actually do something about them and to try and be problem solvers and critics of the inequities they see in the world.
"It is my hope that students begin questioning the systems and power structures in place--not to just question them, but to actually do something about them and to try and be problem solvers and critics of the inequities they see in the world."
How would you expand the idea of becoming "problem solvers"? Have students choose a singular cause they are passionate about, become more active in their communities?
I think so, that's mostly what I was going for anyway. I'm heavily influenced by Linda Christensen--a master teacher who is all about teaching for social justice. It's been my experience that students do notice problems and issues in their communities, but that they don't always think about them in terms of their abilities to work to change those problems. I would want them to see that they can affect change and that the things that they are passionate about matter and can help them impact the world around them.