Throughout this book, Gee emphasizes a few key concepts: the need for mentorship, the inevitability of human stupidity and an emphasis for utilizing reflective action. I think these themes truly came together in the last reading. Throughout ‘Lack of Experience,’ it reminded me our need of skilled mentorship. This mentorship I feel is analogous to the thought of conducting research, we seek out information about what is going on, how it is done and suggestions on how to do these things in addition to what is possible to be done in the future. However, how do educators, direct students from what they know and have learned, to instill the need to pursue ‘openness’ as Gee describes. Not only to pursue openness but to do it critically, by making good judgements that are based on evidence and reason; and to be able to ‘see-through' when we live in a world when, “We use them [words], for the most part, not to orient toward truth, but to orient toward persuasion (of others, as well as ourselves)” (p. 65). In addition to this, openness that allows one decipher when these words, or our own perceptions, cloud what is real or what is fantasy.
So my questions to you are, how has a teacher, educator or a person from a related context provided the opportunity to you to pursue ‘openness?’ How did this change your perspective?How could this type of openness be incorporated into education? Could this provide status or solidarity for a student? Why or why not?
Great questions, Kathleen.
I would say that a professor from my previous semester in grad school really made a difference in my pursuit of "openness." The course was entitled, "Feeling Things", and the professor was Dr. Lisa Langstraat. The course was centered on Sara Ahmed and her book describing emotional affects in society (The Cultural Politics of Emotion).
I won't go into detail about the book, but I will say that Lisa helped us to understand the complexities of the book's theories because she was an expert on the subject.
I think this is key if we want to act as mentors for our students and guide them to pursue "openness." We need to be experts. I did not understand emotions the way I do now and how they function in our society, impacting important topics like race, gender, and sexuality.
The best way to encourage openness is to expand our own experience and gain knowledge. We can do this through professional development, taking courses in different fields of study at the university level, and developing a habit of exploring difficult critical articles through the college database. It's a lot of work and time, I know, but that's when you should ask yourself if your students are worth all of that extra work. I guarantee you they are.
Once you're an expert, I think you could incorporate the openness in your classroom through digital learning. Then we create those communities, which translates into the status or solidarity for students. I think it's empowering to feel open, and brings me closer to those who have the same feelings/thoughts.
How would you best incorporate your openness into education?
I think that almost every teacher that I’ve had in higher education has allowed for me the opportunity to pursue “openness” in my education. Interestingly enough, some of the most open thinking and reasoning that I’ve had while in higher education was a grad class last semester in which we explored themes of femininity in medieval texts. I think this class allowed me to understand how ideologies and beliefs that we might see as a modern thing such as feminism, but in reality there were early forms of it back as early as the 12th century. I think what made this so open was that there weren’t too many wrong questions that made me feel like I couldn’t speak. I could pose my interpretation by using textual evidence and reasoning, and by speaking candidly with the professor and classmates; I was able to come to other conclusions and perspectives on the same topic. It was refreshing to explore new ideas and topics without there being an exact right or wrong answer, just an answer that came about through reason, logic, and personal interpretation.
I think that this kind of collaboration between those in the class help to create the same kind of openness in the construction of thinking. I think we do this a lot in this class as we discuss more the forum posts together in class. Some of the most open thinking has been the past few classes (even if they were “depressing” at times.) As we discussed in this class, and that medieval class, I feel that solidarity is created and we can feel as though we are a community of thinkers, and constructors of knowledge.
I think that when we allow this free-discussion to help us come to logical conclusions in our classrooms will naturally creates an openness of thinking and knowledge construction.
That class sounded great! I had a very similar experience in one of my classes in undergrad where the theme was International Development. I had never been in a class where people openly expressed their opinions on certain issues, and like you said, the teacher never wronged the students but pushed them to seek out if what they were saying was actually true. Actually, about three weeks into that class, I switched my major (originally a Biology major with a Pre-Med focus - look where I am now! Ha!).
I think that class allowed me to be open to the idea that people are people and generally want the same things, despite that they lived in a different place, or even a different time period. But it's extremely refreshing to be able to have those types of discussions to reach that point.
My best teachers have always been the ones to “blow my mind” by helping me see a topic from an angle I didn’t even know existed. My early schooling was limited by teachers and parents who believed education should never contradict one's religion or "comfort story." So, during my first years in college, it didn’t take much to have my mind blown. I was most moved by professors who actually denied this idea of one “truth” or brought attention to meta-narratives. I latched onto these concepts that recontextualized the way I understood my experiences. These teachers helped me realize that my perspective was not inherently unique or mine or static but something constantly evolving based on the world I exist in. Specifically, I took an English course my junior year of college that changed my life. It really made me aware of how the expectations I had for my body are deeply influenced by the culture I live in. This gave me a newfound agency over my thoughts. It saved me in a way that years of therapy for an eating disorder never could. Realizing that my disorder was not a personal flaw but the result of unrealistic, cultural expectations that so many of us subscribe to, helped me to sort out my thoughts. Gee says, “We have a built-in desire to gain respect and try to achieve status, even if the high-status people and groups we aspire to be like do not deserve our respect” (63). My best professors have helped me to challenge what and who I cling to and why and for whose benefit.
I think a key element to bringing openness in the classroom is by providing students with many opportunities to engage with diverse experiences. Whether through interactions with their peers or through books, we must find ways for students to take what they know to be true about the world and compare it to the way others make meaning. Gee says, “For us humans, there is no asocial starting point, no asocial ending point” (66). We need help students see the ways their thoughts are a part of a larger, cultural conversation that they are allowed to take part in and challenge.
I too have had my mind blown by literature and professors who facilitate discussions about reading in the context of broader culture. It's amazing sometimes how the voices in books resonate on deeper levels than discussion sometimes - perhaps because of something to do with imprinting the words in our memories?
I would say that I have been very lucky and have had a lot of experiences with professors providing me the opportunities and contexts to help me pursue openness. I have always found that it is important for professors/teachers to build a sort of respectful community in the classroom--one that makes the classroom a safe space where it is okay and encouraged to look at and inhabit multiple perspectives.
One of the more recent experiences I have had with a professor is with Dr. Sue Doe. Sue is an amazing researcher and has a ton of knowledge about, well, most everything it seems. She is also incredibly good at getting her students to think critically and explore their beliefs and ideas about the world and the discipline they are working in. I often found myself challenged in her classes to go past what I thought and to really examine research, other writings, and reasons behind my own opinions to form a better understanding of my worldviews. Sue supported me and my ideas, but when that extra step to help me realize all the possibilities out there.
In education, I think we have to do the same with our students. I believe in having a "culture of error" in my classroom. I want to create the kind of space where not only is it okay to fail, but it is seen as part of the process of becoming better. I want students to be wrong sometimes, and to know that it is okay. The point is that they should always be growing, always be learning, and always be thinking. I believe that teaching students to think critically is incredibly important and can help them with openness. It pushes them to see more than one side/one perspective and that makes them better.
I think the best example of openness in the classroom I've experienced was during a comparative religious thought class in college, in which the professor would pose a question (usually having to go with general religious themes, such as perceptions of God, of the human condition, purpose in life, etc) and basically allow the class to dialogue from there with little to no intervention (unless things got really heated, as discussions about religion tend to do, and then he'd step in to mediate). On the first day I got into a debate with another student with alternate religious viewpoints from my own, and it was a very intense, though civil, discussion. She sought me out after class and it became our ritual to grab lunch together after every class.
I think class discussion is an integral part of learning openness, rather than just listening to a professor teach. The classroom should be a safe place to ask questions and learn the meaning of productive discourse, particularly when there are differing viewpoints and students who basically get their beliefs directly from their parents. It's not the teacher's job to shape anyone's opinion, but to learn critical thinking skills and effective ways of examining evidence. Furthermore, the skill of agreeing to disagree, or disagreeing respectfully, is valid when students eventually set foot in the real world (that "real world" being college for many, where they might lack the ability to thrive in a more diverse environment).
Beth, I absolutely agree with you. I think it is incredibly important to make sure classroom discussion is reflective of the real world, which means difference in opinion is necessary. It means we should not avoid offense but utilize moments of discomfort to unpack meaning. To accomplish this, teachers have to definitely let go some control and comfortably fill the role of facilitator and moderator.
I wonder, how can we replicate real world conversations in a class of students who are demographically similar? What digital tools can help diversify classroom discussion?
It’s good that you were able to find yourself at college and realize the importance of how unimportant the expectations of how the body is supposed to look. I am interested in what class it was that got you thinking this way, and in what ways did the teacher/professor change your views. I could not agree with you more about the quote from Gee on page 63 in regards to “groups we aspire to be like do not deserve our respect.” There have been many times I feel this way throughout my career, and sometimes you have to let that go because it really does not matter. I think that once we can get students to understand that, we have done something for them that they can use in life.
Openness in the classroom is important. Building a safe community for any age is needed and will help guide instruction positively. I have had many teachers and professors who could make a classroom very open and safe, and other teachers and professors who were not as good. Being able to speak up and not be afraid of sharing your feelings appropriately are necessary. Kids, teens, and adults need to feel welcome, but I also think some do not want to speak. Some do not want to share what they feel or think, but it’s important for teachers to understand students on an individual basis. In order to have a safe environment that promotes learning, teachers need to find out where their students are from, the experience they have or are having outside of the classroom, and what interests them. An interest inventory with what the student’s expectations can be effective, and using some of those ideas can drive instruction to create an open classroom. Setting rules and expectations is important, but it also depends on the age level and type of class you are teaching. One size never fits all, and I feel each student has different interests and knowledge. I’ve always hated “Popcorn” reading or calling students out to read or answer questions. I encourage all students to join the conversation, but at certain times and places, we cannot call students out without knowing the reasons why they choose not to speak or participate. Openness sometimes takes time and practice, and for some, it may take more than that.
I agree here, with Seth, about building a community in the classroom. In order to explore different attitudes and ideas (which is completely necessary for "openness" to occur) we have to give our students the ability to trust in us, and in one another, by providing the guidance and environment from day one to cultivate a learning community in our classrooms.
I do find it interesting that while Gee highlights our defacto need to persuade, that we so heavily focus on persuasive writing in ELA classrooms. This may seem too simple, but one of the best experiences I had (as an undergrad) was in a composition class in which one of our assignments was to write a persuasive paper - I know surprise, surprise. Well, the composition class, nor the paper were really the best experience - but, as I was researching I discovered that my beliefs about my subject changed, and I wound up writing a paper that argued for the complete opposite of what I had intended originally, and that was something completely new for me. One way we can help students have open minds is to expose them to arguing for the other side in classroom discussions, debates, and in their writing. Practice seeing the 'other' side I think may create more critical thinking in our students, developing the skills to understand multiple perspectives. It may not mean that students will change their minds, but it may support empathy, understanding, and evidencial evaluation skills that students can carry forward with them.
Look into Peter Elbow's "Believe and Doubt" Game. I play it with every class I teach to get them thinking in different ways. It will sometimes be hard on th age yu are working with but it does make them think differently.
Interesting point about classroom participation that caters to introverts. I hate "popcorn discussion" myself, and find that forced participation leads me to say things that aren't very intelligent or well thought-out, which is why I often don't participate in group discussion (in some classes). I've had classes with participation in the form of online discussions or submitting brief papers which I've done far better in than meeting some sort of "word quota" per class.
Seth, you're right. But, I also wonder if school actually works to discourage certain students from openness. This is something I have been thinking about recently. I think it's important to question not only how we can promote openness, but the ways in which we unintentionally discourage openness from our students.
There have been many teachers from elementary through graduate school who have not only exemplified openness but passed on numerous ideas on how I might also encourage openness in my own classroom. As I reflect back, I believe many of these teachers had wide and varied experiences in education, travel, volunteerism, and active participation in governance. Many moons ago, I pursued a career in politics, I believed that perhaps that was where I could really make an impact, help those who had less status, education and experience. A lack of solidarity with political operatives and the norms of politics cemented my career in education. I could not wrap my mind around the lying, the twisting of words and language to further one own’s end. My father taught me that you enter politics to help and care for the less fortunate; that was not my experience and those were not my people. Status is something that I have shunned, and so I left. Teachers, I can embrace, this is a group that I can feel solidarity with. I see how they work, how they care, the hours they put in, the pay they receive, the love they spread, and I feel solidarity. My classroom feels open to me, sometimes I believe my students feel it is too open and it scares them. There is no right or wrong answer; there is just a conversation. They ask, “ What do you want Ms. Phelan and what is the right answer?”, and I tell them there is not one. This terrifies an eighth grader, especially a student that wants to get that “ A” , and I explain I want them to think, to make mistakes, to learn, to create, to consider problems all without a rubric wrapped around the experience. They laugh and so do I.
This week in my classes, we are discussing topics of division and discrimination as we engage the perspective of those persecuted during the Holocaust in Germany, in addition to those affected by the construction of the Berlin Wall. We are searching for meaning in graffiti as we unpack the intent of people taking to the streets to create a public discourse for their feelings through their "art." We have examined both notions that graffiti can start a conversation between people in public, but can equally be used in offense to others, and distilling the difference has been our focus. All of that said, our conversations this week (in both 4th and 1st grades) took turns to encompass the understanding of what it would feel like to be in these positions. Allowing students to dissect pieces of artwork and talk about the idea of how people may not like other people because of the color of their skin, or differences of opinions and belief was a space that allowed for the openness of reflective thinking to occur. Students were able to conclude that, "just because someone is a different color from you, doesn't mean you can't be friends; its like if you both liked Star Wars, you have something in common."
While we are approaching these topics through at a very elementary level and through the context of art, this idea of perspective is also a recurring theme I am seeing in the reading, and one I think is at the center of connected learning and crucial in the development of identity through status/solidarity. What I expressed to my students this week was this: When we learn about other people's lives and we think about what it would be like...to be discriminated against, for example, we understand how it would feel by looking at life from their perspective...AND, when we can empathize (emphasis here) with how it would feel, we are less likely to treat others that way in the future.
Allowing spaces for these conversations and simulations to take place, for me, are the foundations of the systems of education Gee is aiming to achieve. Spaces where students can connect and relate real experiences of real people to themselves and start to make sense of who they are in the process.