LD research – Emily Skanes

I am a Master’s student in Anthropology of Education with a concentration in special education. I became interested in anthropology as an undergraduate student at Eastern Kentucky University. I focused my undergraduate research, entitled Deaf Studies through the Eyes of Anthropology, on deaf children and on the Deaf Culture because I had previously learned American Sign Language.  This research experience piqued my interest in public schools and how they provide services for students with disabilities, and it led me to pursue a Master’s degree at Teachers College of Columbia University.

In my Master’s thesis research, I consider how public school systems implement special education policies through a qualitative research project interviewing general education and special education teachers in the public and charter school system in Manhattan. To understand how the school system establishes policies to educate all students equally, I analyze the national education policies like ‘No Child Left Behind’ and take an in-depth look into several scholarly works on disabilities and education. These works examine special education and disabilities from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, such as through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, and disability studies that I have been exposed to through my coursework at TC. I use theoretical approaches from each of these disciplines in order to understand the accommodations provided to each child with a disability.

As I started writing my thesis, I found that existing research states that there are few universals to learning, as each child processes information differently.There is no quick fix, especially for children with disabilities. Each child is affected differently by the disability. For my field research, I am interviewing twenty educators from across the public and charter school system with a fifteen-question interview on their classroom setting. My research pushes work on students with disabilities in mainstream settings to consider the transition from school age to high school. Previous research looks at students with a medical diagnosis and records the academic outcome. These works also record the point of view of the instructors, but they do not ask the students who have a disability their personal education experience. Therefore, I use my personal experience of being diagnosed with Dyslexia to further this point and consider how identity can intersect with having a disability and the stigma surrounding that disability. In addition to the personal experiences that I want to document, I found in my current research that policies are not static and change often over time. In the future, I envision intervening to develop better practices based on my research, and I have been asking the educators about what they think should be changed or needs to be addressed in future reforms.

I have interviewed fifteen educators so far, all of whom have different experiences educating children. Some have educated children for several years while others only have two or three years experience. Additionally, these educators work within different environments, like mainstream general education and self-contained special education classrooms. They all have expressed their positivity towards the current inclusion policy, which has been an enlightening part of my research. Alongside this I am also asking each of them their opinion on what they think should be addressed in the special education program. My goal is to determine what is still needed to provide the best educational opportunities for all students, and I plan to use my masters research to develop a future study on recording the personal experience of students in the special education system, focusing on children in mainstream settings and students with learning disabilities.

 

Qualitative Funding Workshop

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Earlier this month, the Society for Anthropological Studies (a student group for those interested in anthropology) organized a workshop on qualitative research funding for graduate students across Teachers College. The workshop featured two professors from the programs in anthropology,  Juliette de Wolfe and Nicholas Limerick. Here, readers can check out some of the funding opportunities available. While most are geared towards students of anthropology, the workshop also covered some general tips and processes in applying for funding for all students and young scholars. Some of those tips include the following:

First, there are often “demographic” characteristics that particular fellowships and organizations look for. Make sure to keep in mind requirements regarding citizenship status, enrollment status, area of research, and length of study. For example, some funding opportunities are looking only for full-time, doctoral students who are U.S. citizens, while others restrict their pool of candidates to those studying in a particular area or discipline, without constraints on citizenship or enrollment status.

Second, it’s important to critically think through your research questions and why other people should care about the outcomes of your research.  During the workshop, there was time to present and discuss research questions in small focus groups. It became evident that some students had never thought about how to position their research question in different ways to different audiences. Such exercises can be helpful when thinking about what sorts of projects the funding organization is looking for and whether/how your own projects fits into such a framework. What do you hope to contribute to your field? Similarly, you should know where your body will be and what it will be doing – what is your setting and who are your participants?

In closing, here is a step-by-step guide on how to apply for funding opportunities in general, followed by tips to keep in mind.

How to apply:

  1. Read EVERY direction listed in the program description
  2. Begin to collect necessary materials
    1. project description (intro/significance/contributions/methods, etc.),
    2. Curriculum Vitae (and maybe one from your advisor if necessary),
    3. proposed budget,
    4. letters of recommendation (ASK FOR THESE EARLY AND CREATE INFORMED WRITERS)
  3. Ask at least two other people (one from your field and one not) to read your proposal and give you feedback
  4. Do not wait until the last minute to submit your materials. Unexpected technological glitches/snafoos can occur.
  5. Plan for IRB approval
  6. Plan for travel needs (visas, immunizations, institutional approval, etc.)

Tips:

  • Make sure the funding cycle and your research timeline align
  • Start with a WOW statement!
  • Follow with a brief introductory paragraph that ends with a clearly articulated thesis statement, briefly explaining your research topic. You will also have to mention your methods and anticipated outcomes in the intro.
  • You are writing to a group of reviewers who may be only marginally familiar with the technical writing or concepts of your field. Avoid jargon.
  • Write for that specific audience.
  • You will be held accountable for your budget.
  • Make sure that your methods section is detailed. Reviewers should be able to picture exactly what you plan to do (and some want to know your timeframe for doing it)
  • Describe your research question, participants and setting in brief detail. You should use no more than a few sentences.
  • Workshop your research question with your group. Consider:
    • Is the question clear?
    • Can you empirically answer the question with your methods?
    • Do you understand the language/vocab?
    • Are the participants and setting appropriate for the question?

PhD Student Rodrigo Mayorga-Camus Discusses His 2014 Summer Fieldwork in Chile

For my summer fieldwork I went to Santiago, Chile and studied two high schools there. One of them was a public, non-confessional high school serving working and middle class students and theIN 2014-06-18 other was a private, catholic high school serving upper class students. Following a group of students in each of these schools, I intended to understand how Chilean high school students appropriate and resignify (if they do) the school’s attempts to politically socialize them, focusing on how their political actions and political identities are defined, performed and negotiated in these settings.

I conducted participant observations in both schools, following the students in their History, Language, Religion and Class Council classes. I also followed them during their breaks and other instances, such as school’s ceremonies or social work activities. During the time of my fieldwork, the country was experiencing a series of students’ protests and this was the context my participants were part of. At least one of the schools in my study was occupied by its own students for several weeks, allowing me to observe them in a totally re-configured setting. All of this helped me to think about the practices in which they engaged and the particular ways in which they, in dialogue and debate with other actors, were ‘becoming political beings’.

Second Year Master’s Student, Thomas Depree, Discusses Summer Fieldwork on Uranium Mines

Figure-Ground InterplayDuring Summer 2014, Depree traveled to the North American Southwest to study the relationships between mining corporations and people of the Navajo Nation. Thinking back on his fieldwork, as he begins to write a report of his fieldwork activities, Depree considers issues of conceptualization and analysis:

“My general fields of interest are political ecology and science and technology studies (STS). My research focuses on the politics of uranium extraction in the North American Southwest—on the Navajo Nation, as well as Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. Mining figures into my research as a culpable practice in the context of climate change and the precarious state of the world’s water system, particularly its systematic byproduction of mine waste, which has the agentive capacity to change the world around it. I attend to the relationships between mining corporations, state agencies, NGOs, and people who have been affected by and are critical of uranium mining. The term “environmental racism” is emergent in the field, used to describe the uneven distribution of environmental impacts, which raises concerns over basic human rights. Ultimately, I use a concept that I call the technopolitics of biomonitoring to describe a contested space in which the biophysical effects of mine waste, uranium tailings in particular, are demonstrated using technology that measures the occurrence of harmful constituents. The challenge is to analyze competing forms of data that are used strategically on both sides of the controversy. The metaphor of museum practice is helpful: how do collectors archive, curate, and exhibit data?”

Jim Igoe Interviews 2013 Rappaport Prize Finalist, Scott Freeman*

*Scott Freeman is a doctoral student at Teachers College

 

As part of an ongoing series profiling finalists for the 2013 Rappaport Prize, Jim Igoe interviews Scott Freeman about his research and writing on soil conservation, labor, and environmental awareness in Haiti.

Scott Freeman was a finalist for the 2013 Rappaport Student Paper Prize from the Anthropology and the Environment section.  Scott is completing a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University Teachers’ College and a dissertation entitled, To Conserve and Protect: Soil Conservation and Environmental Awareness in Haiti.  He is currently a visiting scholar in the Institute for Global and International Studies at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) Scott was selected as one of five participants in the Rappaport Prize panel at the 2013 AAA meetings on the strength of his paper:Conserving the Project: Labor, Development, and Environmental Government in Haiti. The paper engages long-standing concerns with soil conservation in Haiti. His rich ethnographic analysis reveals the ways in which the economy and logic of funded projects shapes and directs labor practices and environmental awareness. His insights have relevance not only for soil conservation in Haiti, but for conservation and development generally, and in many different parts of the world.

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JI: Could you begin by talking a bit about your background. How did you become interested in anthropology in general, and soil conservation in Haiti in particular?

SFAfter college, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I lived in an agricultural town in the mountains where I worked with youth, the environment, and sexual health education. There were a number of Haitian migrant workers living in the sprawling barrio where I lived, and we would trade English for Kreyòl lessons. I think that the more time I spent in the DR, the more I was aware of how necessary it was to understand the island as a whole.

I actually never took any anthropology during undergrad (I was pretty interested in comparative literature). During my years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I happened to run into an applied anthropologist. By that time, I was fed up with the absurdities of development that I saw unfolding around me, and he thought I might find some helpful perspectives in anthropology. After I did some reading and spoke more and more to him, I realized that the questions I wanted to ask were already being asked by anthropologists.

My interest in soil conservation is far more recent. It was one of those unforeseeable fieldwork moments. I hadn’t set out to study soil conservation, but I kept seeing these ditches dug along hillsides, and came to realize that they were the work of the organizations I was interested in. They seemed to be everywhere; I really couldn’t get away from them. Farmers I spoke to started telling me they would never build them, because it was the job of the NGOs and projects to do so. It went from an odd side topic of conversation to becoming my primary focus of research. As I learned more about the structures and their history in the country, these canals seemed to be the clearest way to really study how environmental development aid was unfolding.

JI: I remember reading about soil conservation in Haiti back in my Development Anthropology seminar in graduate school back in the late 1980s. What makes this topic such a long-standing topic in environmental anthropology do you think?

SFSupposedly, soil conservation was considered the first ‘global environmental movement’. Right after the Dust Bowl phenomenon in the 1930s, people in the United States were startled. Even Washington DC was getting dust storms. Seeing all of this in the US, other countries (particularly British colonial administrations) wanted to figure out how they can continue to extract resources from the land without having some sort of environmental catastrophe. So soil conservation became this global concern.

Political ecology makes a pretty important intervention into all this. The premise for these interventions was largely that farmers were doing things wrong, and that populations were growing too fast. Piers Blaikie and Harold Brookfield looked at soil degradation and started pointing out that actually degradation has far more to do with broader systems of accumulation and dispossession.

Since then, this back and forth has continued. Is soil degradation the fault of ‘negligent’ farmers? Or is there something more insidious going on in terms of extraction and accumulation? Anthropologists love to get at these questions. They involve global movements of ideas and commodities, and revolve around knowledge production, representation and inequality. I think it was essential that anthropologists played a role in these debates, and I really hope that we continue to do so into the future.

JI: One of my favorite parts of the article is your discussion of collective labor, ritual feasting, and a postive post-colonial identity. Could you talk about that a bit and how it relates to some the arguments you are making about soil conservation?

SFI think one of the most amazing parts of this research has been getting to think about the different ways that people work together in adverse conditions. Cooperative work groups are a prominent part of Haitian life. The strategy is, ‘we’ll work your land one day, my land the next’, and so on. The really fascinating part comes when the groups sell their labor to another person. When they collect payment for their work, they don’t distribute the money. Rather, they hold onto it until the end of December. At that time, they’ll buy a goat or cow to slaughter, and will divide the meat among the members. So rather than individual and immediate cash compensation, there’s delayed, non-cash compensation. On January first then, everyone gets some of the meat to eat. January first is Haitian Independence Day, and this activity comes as an assertion of freedom and humanity, remembering the day that the slaves won their freedom and for the first time could eat what they wanted.  Even if meat is scarce for the rest of the year, on that day everyone can meat- there’s this profound assertion of dignity with independence.

I think this intersects with soil conservation as conservation projects come in with cash-for-work type wages. Many of these projects assemble labor groups to dig ditches. These groups look the same, but there are completely different in terms of the types of relationships that are imposed. Unlike the cooperative work groups, soil conservation group payment is individual, immediate, and in cash. There’s a monetization of the social relationships in group labor. Not that wage labor hasn’t existed before in Haiti, but there’s something really quite different going on here with the way that particular labor forms become coopted for the purpose of cash distribution. Farmers too discuss the wage labor done for soil conservation as something qualitatively different, something they, without a project, would never attempt.

Digging

JI: The central focus of your analysis is what you call “the projectification of soil conservation.” What do you mean by this and what do you regard as some of its primary topical and theoretical implications?

SFWhat I’m referring to is the way that projects slip into the everyday parts of people’s lives. For example, space starts to be defined in terms of beneficiaries, time becomes regulated by the entrance and exits of projects. Grassroots organizations continually seek legal recognition in order to obtain projects. However slowly all these processes occur, they start to alter the everyday.

Development aid has become remarkably dominated by ‘the project’. There are graduate school programs in ‘project management’, and aid workers have described to me their lives as hopping from project to project. I realized that this intense prevalence of the project calls for attention to how aid is  terms of the project. It forces us to consider what are the properties of the project itself—how does a project assert certain logics as it becomes more and more a part of life in both development and in the Haitian countryside.

JI: How would you describe this work fitting with your larger dissertation project?

SFFunny enough, I now wince when I think of my dissertation as a project! But I think that this intersection of an examination of the project and of soil conservation is really at the heart of what I’m doing. I try to take a very historical perspective in understanding how problems get defined, and how they oblige particular solutions. Soil conservation as an institutional response then becomes this package of technical expertise and strategies that gets moved throughout the world to solve ‘environmental degradation’. I think the larger dissertation research really starts to show how profoundly projects work, and how they become this very intense and diffuse type of government.

JI: What kinds of questions and concerns still remain for you? What kinds of research would you like to do next?

SFThere’s still some conceptual work to be forged on the project for me. I think this means trying to reach out to other disciplines, scholars who are thinking about this in perhaps slightly different ways. In regards to soil conservation, there’s interesting work being done on infrastructure that I think aligns nicely with what I’m doing.

I’ve got another project in Haiti I’m excited about continuing. I looked at the vetiver industry in Haiti a few years ago. This is an industry that takes the roots of the vetiver plant, digs them up, distills them, and sells the oils to perfume houses. The oil is in a lot of widely distributed (and expensive) perfumes. I’m interested in the way the perfume industry conceptualizes Haitian vetiver as compared to the Haitian farmers’ understanding of the uses and movements of the oil. This has a lot to do with soil degradation (ripping roots out of the ground is a very real threat to the soil), and processes of extraction and accumulation. I think it will build off the current project really nicely, and hopefully add a important perspective to a very sparsely studied industry

 

Original post can be found here

Faculty Member Lesley Bartlett and Alumna Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher to Receive CIES National Book Award

Original Post can be found here.

 

Lesley Bartlett, Associate Professor of Education, and Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher (Ed.D. ’08), a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, will receive the 2014 Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award from the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) for  Refugees, Immigrants and Education in the Global South (Routledge, 2013). Six of the fifteen chapters in the volume were authored or co-authored by graduates or doctoral students from Teachers College.

The Kirk Award was created in 2010 to honor the professional life of Jackie Kirk, a McGill University faculty member killed in Afghanistan while on a humanitarian aid mission, and her deep commitments to work on gender and education and education in conflict. The award will be formally presented to Bartlett, Ghaffar-Kucher, and affiliated authors next week at the 2010 CIES meeting in Toronto.

The award committee members called Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South “an important contribution to the debate on education and migration,” calling it “theoretically sophisticated, well developed and intellectually coherent” and praising it for drawing upon “rich ethnographic research approaches”  and contributing
“a wealth of new insights into the cross-cutting issues of gender, education, migration and conflict.”

In the words of nominator Erin Murphy-Graham of the University of California at Berkeley, a key contention of Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South is that “the definition of who ‘counts’ as a refugee is in need of serious attention.” She praises the book for identifying “a vital new line of inquiry within the fields of education, migration, and development studies: migration and education” and for examining “the role of schooling in incorporating or further marginalizing (im)migrant and displaced populations.”

“In their introduction to the volume, Bartlett and Ghaffar-Kucher argue that the distinction between immigrant and refugee is overstated and that ethnographic attention to the ‘lived experiences of mobile people reveals the permeability of these categories,’” Murphy writes. “In their own words, ‘conventional thought assumes that a refugee is pushed out of his or her country by political concerns, whereas an immigrant or migrant is pulled to another country, largely by economic motivations. Documented refugees may receive support from resettlement agencies in the form of economic support, employment services, education, and psychological services, whereas immigrants and undocumented refugees are largely left to fend for themselves, unless they are fortunate enough to find NGOs offering such assistance.’ Thus, the process of denying or granting refugee status is fraught with complications and shaped by political decisions.”

Doing “Being Ordinary”

By Dr. Portia Sabin*

My husband called me last night from Chicago, where he is in seminary studying to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.  He told me he thought that the Harvey Sacks article I gave him — “On Doing ‘Being Ordinary'” — was quite applicable to his current situation.  He has an interview this Friday with the RSCC, a national body whose function is to determine whether or not ministerial candidates should be allowed to proceed in their candidacy.  Doing poorly at this interview generally means you should find another calling, and as such is a source of much discussion amongst candidates.  He reported that his conversations with other seminarians had led him to believe that they were all hard at work educating one another about the appropriate attitude to have regarding their upcoming RSCC interviews, and that this attitude appeared to require anxiety.  Indeed, NOT being anxious did not appear to be an option for someone who otherwise was doing “being ordinary” in that group.  Because it is so “ordinary” for seminarians to be anxious, my husband wondered if the RSCC board members would find it odd if a candidate was not anxious during the interview.  I said that while the board is no doubt part of the “culture of anxiety” in which candidates go about their daily business, they are also Americans, and that in America confidence and self-possession are also social facts.  Therefore I suggested that he could go into his interview without displaying anxiety and not fear that the board would consider his behavior too “out of the ordinary” in the given situation.

This is only one example of the many ways everything I’ve learned from my Anthropology & Education studies has influenced (affected? infected?) my daily life.  I’ve been having conversations like these with my husband for 14 years, as he became a convert to my theoretical perspective after our very first fight, where he told me he believed in nature over nurture and I said he wasn’t necessarily wrong but simply had chosen the completely uninteresting and unknowable over the interesting and knowable.  For some reason he said, “That’s the girl for me!” at that point and we’ve continued on in intellectual harmony every since.

*Dr. Portia Sabin got her Ph.D. from the TC Anthro & Ed program.  She interrupted her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington after one year to take over the family business, the record label Kill Rock Stars, started by her husband in 1991.  She currently sits on the boards of the American Association of Independent Music and The Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter.  She most recently dipped her toe back in academia by teaching Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Portland Community College in Fall 2013.

Beyond Access to Quality Education

By Nyoka Joseph
What challenges do educators face providing quality education for refugees in the Kakuma camp in Kenya? Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in the northwest region of Kenya near the South-Sudanese border, currently hosts over 45,000 registered school aged refugee children. In 2003 the Government of Kenya introduced the Free Primary Education (FPE) policy, which not only increased access to public schools to all children at all levels but included refugee children as part of that initiative.  The 2012 Joint Assessment of the Education Sector in Kakuma Refugee Camp reported a 78.9% and 10.9% Gross Enrollment rate of primary schools and secondary schools respectively.  

 

One significant challenge to quality education in Kakuma, as in most refugee camps, is a lack of funding and as a result a lack of material resources. Limited access to physical facilities is apparent, given the fifteen primary schools (one of which is a community school) and two secondary schools available in the camp. Access to resources such as: – desks, books, sanitation facilities and teaching materials act as another barrier to providing quality education.

 

Beyond the inadequate facilities and resources there is a shortage of qualified teachers and teacher training programs, whereby 80% of teachers have no qualifications. Many of the teachers, refugees themselves, have received low quality education and so providing quality instruction to their students is a challenge.  Their statuses as refugees can also mean high turnovers as teachers seek other employment due to low wages. The Headteacher at Fuji Primary School stated that “you might be a teacher today but either you go outside or you get another job because in the camp they pay many different. So if you feel an organization failing maybe the incentive [inaudible] So it is not like public where a teacher can be in that school for long”.

 

When combined, overcrowded schools and a shortage of trained teachers, results in large teacher pupil ratio which has been known to impact delivery of quality education. In an interview with a class seven teacher at Fuji primary school in Kakuma, he stated that “Yeah, we have some challenges. Challenges. The issue of teachers to pupils. Like in one class you can get even 200 pupils. The ratio is high. It’s a challenge. You might be explaining and others are making noise. It’s a challenge. Others, it’s insufficient. Each and every pupil should be having almost all the subjects, books of all the subjects, but some have none. So there’s no way you can give them homework, say page 107. There’s homework, go and do it at home. But the majority of them do not have the books.”

 

The data that was collected through the joint International Rescue Committee (IRC) and University of Nairobi research project revealed an extra layer of challenges for two specific populations in the camps, girls and unaccompanied minors. Therefore affirming the importance of disaggregating data for refugee populations is significant, as it allows specific issues of vulnerable groups within an already disadvantaged population to be targeted.

 

The Headteacher at Fuji Primary school spoke of the challenges that girls faced regarding some of their cultural obligations and the reality of having to be forced into early marriage, stating that “when you look at in lower classes and you think the number of girls alright, but come into upper [inaudible] married 14” he makes the point that the challenge is not often in the younger girls participation in school but in the participation of the adolescent female student. It was also clear that some of the female pupils interviewed had responsibilities that took priority over continuing and completing their studies at home.  Educating girls is not given urgency in families and their low enrollment and high drop-out rates is evidence given by the Joint Assessment Report that supports the analysis. The class eight Math teacher stated that “you find that they, the education of girls is also in danger. Because, you find that most of the girls that being there are doing a lot of activities at home. So they don’t have enough time for studies”.

 

Unaccompanied minors had to deal with issues of trying to navigate life in the camps on their own or in groups. Many are responsible for collecting their own food rations and registration with UNHCR and therefore are absent from school.  At Fuji Primary school, the class eight Math teacher is quoted as saying that “because we have minors those who have no parents, they live alone. It is hard sometimes when the [inaudible] for the food, they don’t attend classes. [inaudible] So it is also a challenge, Most of the children have no family so when it come to a time of any distribution going on, you find that they don’t come to school. That too is a challenge” The Headteacher at Kismayo Community school reiterated that students’ nutrition is not sufficient and noticed that they are not able to fully participate in classes because they are not receiving enough nourishment day to day.

 

As important as it is to provide quality education in Kakuma or any refugee camp as a matter of fact, it is equally as important to address issues that prevent or delay all refugees from being able to not only access that education but fully participate in their right to be educated.  The discussion has to move beyond access or access to quality education, but also focus on ability to participate in the access to quality education and the challenges that it can present.

 

 

* Nyoka Joseph
M.Ed. Candidate, Comparative and International Education
Teachers College, Columbia University

From Fluffy to Firm, and Back

By Juliette de Wolfe*

For several years before entering the PhD program in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, I worked in an elementary school as a special education teacher.  I’ve often since referred to this as the “fluffy” world I lived in.   We started sentences with “I’m sorry, but…,” “I don’t know if this makes any sense, but…,” and “Tell me if I’m wrong, but…”, and I say “we” because I did it too.  As a woman, working in a profession dominated by women, communication was indirect, hesitant, and even nervous.  I had become accustomed to this and had a rude awakening when I began my doctoral studies.

I realized about two weeks into the two-year long colloquium at Teachers College that no one in the room cared about what I felt.  They were interested in what I thought, and how I came upon that thought, and what evidence I could use to back it up.  I would take the N train back to my tiny apartment in Queens, NY each Thursday evening after class had finished, licking my wounds and thinking about how nasty, cold, and un-fluffy the experience had been.  There is no feeling in that room, I thought – just stone-cold performance and judgment.  But as we all must in our lives, I adapted.  I began to understand the dance, and to even tap along to the beat once in a while.  By the end of the second semester I was less shy in colloquium and enjoyed the conversations for the lingering stimulation they provided.  On my subway rides home, I eventually spent less time licking wounds, and more time thinking about what my fellow students had presented, and how they had challenged my ideas.

The big break-through for me came in my second year of colloquium.  A male student was presenting his plans for summer fieldwork and I saw major gaps in his methodology.  It seemed as though the day-to-day activities of his fieldwork had not yet been thought through, and I found this extremely problematic.  I raised my hand to ask him, in essence, what he actually planned to do in the field everyday.  As I formulated my question though, I felt my own hesitancy.  My words were flip floppy, and I said things such as “I’m sure you’ve already figured this out, but…,” and “I’m sure it’ll be great, but…,” when it fact I meant the exact opposite.  I meant, “I don’t think you have figured this out at all.  I think you need to come up with a better plan.  And at this point, I don’t think it’ll be great.  I think it’ll be a disaster.”  After I finished stammering through my weak interrogation, a female professor seated next to me, leaned over and told me never to apologize for my questions.  She said that as women we tend to do this, but we shouldn’t.  We have every right to ask assertive questions and demand answers.  I think about that advice often.

Three years later, and with a PhD in hand, I’ve returned to the “fluffy” world.  I’m back in an elementary school setting where (generally) women sit in meetings and still apologize for their questions, their answers, their space in the room.  But I don’t do this anymore, and it makes me stand out.  Just a few weeks ago I was in an English/Language Arts (ELA) planning meeting, where we were discussing quarterly standards.  I posed a question regarding measurement of one of the standards to the ELA coach.  She responded by talking around my question for several minutes floundering through her answer.  This is a smart woman who knows the ELA standards inside and out, but her answer did not reflect her knowledge.  As she wrapped up her answer, her volume began to peter out and she repeated a couple of her points unnecessarily.  She then ended by saying, “I’m not sure I’ve answered your question, but…” and trailed off.  I responded simply, “No, you have not answered it, but I’d be happy to repeat my question.”  She blushed and the attention of the other teachers seated in little tiny chairs around the kidney bean shaped table volleyed back and forth between the coach and me.  This time, I rephrased the question, asking for a yes or no answer, followed by an example of how we would or would not effectively assess said standard.  The coach provided a clear and thoughtful answer, and the conversation moved on to the next item of business.  In that moment though, I realized that the firmness I tried so hard to develop in my PhD program was not practiced in this new space, and perhaps was not even welcome.

I now walk a fine line between demanding real answers to my real questions, and fitting in with the otherwise “fluffy” talk that permeates the culture of elementary school communication.  I doubt I will ever be able to fully return to that place of hesitancy where I was ashamed of my ideas and my space in the room, and yet I also need to be respectful of my colleagues’ feelings and ways of expressing themselves.  Moving forward, I hope that I’m able to provide to my colleagues the professional instruction and personal kindness that my professor showed me that day in colloquium.  I recognize that my colleagues may continue to apologize for their thoughts and ideas, but I see a profound value in reassuring them that there is no need to shirk away from their comments, and that this does our important work as educators no good.  And that is something for which I will never apologize.

*Juliette de Wolfe is a graduate of the PhD programs in Anthropology at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Conceptualizing Educative Practices

By Michael Scroggins*

I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form. – John Dewey, My Pedagogical Creed

In a series of works beginning in the 1970’s, Lawrence Cremin reworked Dewey’s utopian vision of the school as a model cooperative community, by taking it, to borrow a phrase from Joseph Dunne, back to the rough ground of everyday life. Partially in response to Illich’s withering broadsides against schooling, Cremin put forth an ecological theory of education positing that the school was but one of many institutions which educate. Instead of “deschooling society” as Illich argued for, we should turn the problem over, look to the broad range of educative practices occurring in the course of ordinary life, and treat the school as but one of many institutions which inevitably educate.

I would like to suggest here that Cremin’s reconceptualization of Dewey’s educational program from the school as society writ small to an ensemble of institutions that educate also demands an equal shift in the methods we employ to study educative practices: a shift from methods predicated on measuring the product of educative practice to a method of research more in line with Dewey’s theory of inquiry. That is, methods focused on the metacognitive process of figuring out what to figure out, which is both a process and a reflection upon the product of that process. This is necessitated by a shift in educational research from problem solving in a well-characterized domain, the classroom, with its fixed ends and means, to problem seeking in an ill-formed domain, everyday life, where the ends and means of educative practice exist in reciprocal relation.

Though Cremin’s program leans heavily on Dewey, he was also influenced by Margaret Mead, with whom he studied during a transitional period in her thinking on education. Following on the heels of the 1954 Stanford Conference, in 1958 Margaret Mead wrote a short article for the Harvard Business Review contrasting two modes of education: vertical transmission, the traditional transfer of traditional knowledge between successive generations implying a strong moral element, and horizontal transmission, the transfer of knowledge without the power/knowledge implications of the teacher/taught relationship. Mead writes that horizontal transfer has become the dominant mode in technological society and that educational research needs to develop new concepts and from them methods to keep pace.

To illustrate the point, Mead uses the mundane, for 1958, example of a child teaching her grandparents how to use a television. The grandchild can offer technical instruction on television tuning in an instrumental mode by imparting know-how to her grandparents, but the grandchild cannot be said to also impart sentimental guidance about what to and what not to watch on the television. The technical instruction in tuning from the grandchild is just one moment in an ongoing process of figuring out what to watch, which started with the idea that in 1958 a television is necessary and continues as long as there is a television to be watched. The grandchild’s instruction, therefore, doesn’t set the television watching in motion, but rather meets the grandparents in media res.

As Cremin wrote of people’s everyday efforts in Public Education (1976): ”Everyday in every part of the world people set out to teach something to others or to study something themselves. . . They deserve a theory specifically addressed to their problems and purposes, one that will assist them to act intelligently, ever hopeful of the possibilities but fully aware of the limitations and risks that attend their efforts.” Implied in the quote, as in his reworking of Dewey’s program, is a theory of educative practice for “the ordinary business of living;” it’s a theory focused on the public process of instruction and deliberation; not its private products.

 

*Michael Scroggins is a PhD student in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia. Currently he is conducting research in and around Silicon Valley on DIYBio and Citizen Science in hackerspaces and other informal institutions (this means garages and kitchens for the most part).