Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blogger identity issues

A semester ago I decided to discontinue this blog and leave behind its writings from a difficult year, with the mistakes I made as well as the awful things that happened to my students - but every now and again there are topics that seem to fit better here than at Coffee and Graph Paper, and I think I'll pick up the 7 random things meme from e to start this blog up again.

Instead of seven entirely "random or weird" facts about myself, here are seven ideas or beliefs that I have held at some point but do not hold anymore. Weird they are, "random" - I don't know. I turned 30 this year, and at some age I have thought that
  • women are best suited for staying at home and minding kids, and that seeking a career outside the home is an expression of selfishness
  • Nelson Mandela was a terrorist
  • the theory of evolution is about the accumulation of advantageous traits from one generation to the next, and that this theory is ridiculous and makes no sense*
  • "whites" and "blacks" are probably better off living in separate areas and developing their different cultures without mutual interference
  • homosexuality is a sort of curse probably rightfully earned by those smitten with it
  • the European Union just might have something to do with the rise of the Antichrist
What can I say? That I believe in education? I cringe while writing these lines even as a statement of notions shed fifteen (give or take a few) years ago.

Also, thinking about the amount of effort, and reading, and discussion, and embarrassment it took to transition from these assumptions to my current ones, it seems a little sad that children are born knowing nothing, that every person needs to start from scratch anyway.

At least we aren't born with ingrained misconceptions of the kind listed above. That's something.

The magnitude of the shift of my ideas invites the question what a list of my current notions will look like in the light of another fifteen years. It's one of the thoughts that makes public writing uncomfortable and underlies an urge to delete entries, discontinue blogs, and definitely keep everything anonymous. Yet, public articulation of one's ideas and trying out arguments against others' is precisely what is needed in order not to get too comfortable with possibly poorly justified beliefs.

This seems a rather random (eh) response to a "7 things meme." I'm preoccupied with this just now because we're having a "diversity training" in January, and I'm dreading it. I hope we won't be asked to dig around in our childhood to unearth our identity there. I have to believe that it is possible to do better than that.

That's one reason why I am a teacher.

*At least there was something to the impatience with Lamarckian explanations. There's that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

An optimistic reading of these career crises

When frustration with the prospects for growth as a teacher are expressed as eloquently and forcefully as they have been at Teaching in the 408 and at Dy/Dan recently, it's hard to read these statements as mere public airings of private distress at a mismatch between job description and character traits. I still have Snow and Fillmore's remarkably upbeat closing to What every teacher should know about language echoing in my head after reading the article for an ed class recently, and perhaps for that reason reading TMAO's and Dan's complaints about incentives and structures missing in public education in a similar way - as a draft list of suggestions for changes. Back to Snow and Fillmore: in conclusion to a lengthy article about why teachers need to know a lot about educational linguistics, and after insisting that there are no less than six courses in this field that should be included in the preparation of every American teacher (yeah, right), the authors remark that
This proposal may strike some readers as utopian. We acknowledge that we have formulated it without thinking about the structures and constraints of traditional teacher education programs. Nonetheless, we are energized by the current political situation surrounding debates about bilingual education and the rather frantic search for better methods of teaching reading... (emphasis added)
If educational linguistics increasingly does become part of regular teacher training, that would presumably be in part because of this article. If measures are taken to encourage teachers to continue to develop and learn and grow throughout their career, that would presumably be in part a result of writings such as those of TMAO and Dan. It may not be possible to distinguish between a meeting of lost campers stuck on a ledge and an encounter between wanderers who are scouting out new trails and better ways for others to follow, except in retrospect - but it's more fun to read the discussion as a case of the latter. At any rate, for however long it lasts, these blogs challenge my sense of possibility and clarify the meaning of high standards on a regular basis, and that is much appreciated.