Cary Edington sat in front of me clicking through his teaching portfolio. Hair in a tuft, eyes bright, and wearing a huge smile at the accomplishment and ideas, he's always been tireless and strident in pursuing his belief that all students deserve engaged and engaging Math and English classes. The portfolio features lessons, activities, and his philosophy on teaching diverse learners, oftentimes through problem based lesson plans. A lesson plan on addressing discrimination in a community, for instance, will teach argumentative writing based on an analysis of statistical evidence gathered during the Math lesson. I admire him deeply for the ways in which he's trying to create the types of educational opportunities for his students not seen in our reports and tests about teaching. He'll soon be entering his first year of the Teach for America program. He decided to leave MSU's top education certification program to take a route more likely to place him in the kinds of classrooms and with the types of students he hopes to teach. Students not unlike himself.
Cary has been raising himself since the age of 13 when he became an emancipated minor. He worked his way through college at MSU as a janitor cleaning schools and rode his bike between campus and work or took the bus when the snow got too deep. Categorized a female at birth, he identifies as a man. When his students ask if he's a boy or girl, he smiles and asks them: "What do you think?" Whatever they answer, he smiles and turns their attention back to the lesson at hand.
Cary's teaching portfolio represents that hard-won place where possibility can emerge in curricular and pedagogical designs created for students' in urban and impoverished schools. In his well-written and provocative revised edition of Why School?, Mike Rose takes up "the experience of eduction when it's done well with the student's well-being in mind" (34). Tracing his own educational journey alongside the students he's taught and observed in master-teacher classrooms, Rose explores questions about school reform, adult education, cognition, work, development, and the possibility of public education in a society with staggering poverty rates and that too often fails to hear the stories of students like Cary. But what do we listen for when we hear a story like Cary's?
Some will hear evidence of a bootstrap story of hard work, perseverance, perhaps even, bravery. In a new chapter on, "Being Careful about Character," Rose takes up the problem of reading stories like Cary's as an indicator that meritocracy in our educational system works. Bootstrap stories (and their newest iteration in character building exercises that emphasize teaching perseverance) amount to little more than placing the onus to change squarely on the very people who are most oppressed by poverty. "If you work hard in school, through sheer perseverance, you will succeed," the thinking goes.
Cary's story is exceptional in large part because it is an exception-- an exception that offers evidence of the rule: Too few people in Cary's position actually make it out of high school, let alone through college, let alone through Math AND English. Even fewer of them actively pursue a teaching career, especially in the hopes of working with students in schools hit hardest by poverty. Rose reminds us that stories like his own, like Cary's, like so many others, are really examples of what is wrong with a capitalist society that tolerates poverty, broken social safety nets, and very unequal access to education.
Cary's curriculum will surely have impact and be helpful to students he teaches. But his success and his teaching are small doses of medicine that will only treat the symptoms of what ails the United States today: unchecked capitalism, institutionalized racism, vast and growing inequities, and failing infrastructures. We need more teachers like Cary teaching students like Cary; we need educational policy bold enough to provide the best educational practices for students in poverty without finding fault with their characters; and we need broad and smart social policy on the scale of Roosevelt's WPA projects and the scope of Johnson's War on Poverty— policy that treats all people humanely and provides safe, clean, state-of-the-art learning spaces.
One theme of the 2014 Writing Research across Borders conference in Paris, France concerned research that promotes social equity, an especially important topic in a time when teachers around the world are seeing demographic shifts in their classrooms and communities. Here are a few trends in writing research that hold promise for addressing questions of equity.
Methodological Innovations Writing research continues to develop more robust ways of approaching language learning. Promising trends include cognitive ethnography, ethnolinguistic studies, mapping, neuroscience research, and cross cultural genre studies. These approaches might offer the scale and depth needed to understand language learning in diverse communities and across multiple languages.
International Research Teams Increasingly, humanities, engineering and sciences, and education scholars are working together to develop large-scale projects. Their research questions are tending to address cross cultural understandings and approaches to questions of the transfer of writing skills and strategies, genre studies particularly across disciplines, the materiality of literacy, and assessment.
Ecologies and Materialities of Writing This longstanding area of research pays attention to the interconnected, networked, collaborative, material, infrastructural, systemic ways in which writing unfolds or is hindered in workplaces and communities. A new dimension to this research, ethnolinguistic studies of writing codes in contact, traces the imperialistic introduction of new writing technologies in cultures and communities.
Professional Development for Teachers in all levels and educational settings remains an important development in writing research. Along this line, look for didactic learning and teaching methods, competency based approaches to teacher education, as well as mentoring and professional development initiatives for faculty.
Global writing networks, digital contact zones, connectivity, citizenship, social networking, and activism all remain important areas of theorizing and research. While not a new area, look for interesting pedagogical innovations between teachers and researchers uniting classrooms across the globe to enhance learning of all students through project based assignments.
Trans (insert noun here) Cultures. Languages. Disciplines. Nations. All of these areas were represented by several presentations from scholars around the globe. The results of these studies show how learners develop metalinguistic awareness as they develop abilities to transfer skills and strategies; they show how literacies travel and accrue across life spans; and they reveal deeper understanding of the translating process as it unfolds in learners' texts. This important trend in writing research promises better understandings of circulations of power in literacies and language learning.
Interested in learning more? Browse the convention program here.
Scholars struggle to get published. Mary Juzwik and I know firsthand how hard it is to get into the pages of RTE (5.89% acceptance rate). The editors who worked with us taught us about writing and publishing, engaging in conversations, and persevering through multiple revisions. We thank them. And we hope to continue the pedagogical legacy of their editorships.
Our second issue of RTE focuses on hopeful, vibrant, change-making pedagogies happening in school and university settings. It features articles from Haeny Yoon and Anna Wetzl, two amazing new scholars, whose award-winning research asks the tough questions about and demonstrates how teachers can make change in their classrooms. We learn much from their articles and all in this issue. The issue reminds us too of the pedagogical work we do as editors.
Mary hit on a brilliant idea to create Ten Tips for New Authors as part of our introduction to this issue. We included the best advice we've learned along the way as once new writers and now as editors. We hope they're helpful!
Check out our submission guidelines: http://www.ncte.org/journals/rte/write
Still have questions? Drop us a line at the RTE Journal office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"You must be in culture shock, right?" Miss Hass's teaching intern meant well. My steely look somehow convinced her to go on: "I mean coming to this place must be so different." She knew I had just arrived from upstate New York the month before to sit in the first class of my senior year at San Bernadino High School. Picture Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club anticipating Winowa Rider in Beetlejuice— that was me. Grim. Disengaged. Pissed at the world.
When our rust-belt poverty resulted in a second eviction notice in 4 years, Mom read this as an invitation to southern California's sun-belt opportunity. So we packed what we could into a UHAUL (sleeping accommodations on the roof), and we drove the 2673 miles from Corning, New York to 29 Palms, California. My brother, a Marine stationed there, put us up until we could get on our feet. Mom found us a home in San Bernardino a few months later, and I began my senior year of high school, the only white looking, punk girl in my English class. These superfacial differences aside, I was checked out of school, felt under-challenged, and dropped out for a month or so before eventually going back to finish.
I began to resolve my culture shock after two years of working at the Jack in the Box on Baseline and Waterman. I enrolled full time in California State University, San Bernadino and worked my way through, mostly in fast food and retail for 25-30 hours a week. Enrolling in classes (in the days before computer enrollment) involved standing in long lines on the day your name came into the established queue. They let students into the gymnasium fifty at a time. Tables were arranged in a circle by department around the gym's outside foul line. We raced from table to table, asked for a class, and secured a 3x5 enrollment card for the class. As an open enrollment university, CSUSB had too many students fighting for limited space in classes. One quarter of not getting the classes needed meant more tuition, more time to degree, more work and increased our frenzy.
When I did get into classes, my writing was awful: fragmented thinking led to equally fragmented writing. Ideas dolloped on the page like layers of a bean dip. With similes about that bad. But I loved reading, and words helped me make sense of my experience. So I began paying attention to the writers who were turning phrases in ways that made sense to me. I went through more writing styles than Madonna identities. Eventually, during my junior and senior years when classes got smaller, a few encouraging professors listened to what I was trying to say and I began to improve.
That last year of high school and first years of college were so daunting. Campuses bigger than my hometown. So many languages and me only able to speak English, a little book Spanish. All the time feeling the outsider. But the people in it with me were so kind, and most were in the same boat, or fresh off one. We'd come to Southern California looking for stability: food on the table, a safe home, decent clothes on our back, and we were willing to work hard for that chance to do better— even with our episodes of alienation and disengagement.
Over the years, that idea of culture shock has begun to make more sense to me as a teacher and learner. It has influenced my faculty development workshops and teaching philosophy.
More importantly, culture shock as a theory, can help us make sense of the struggles that come with loss and migration. It can help us put words to the foreignness of coming to a new country, region, or college. It can help us tell the stories behind the steely looks. Professor Cheryl Caesar developed a site that does just this. Students writing for this site voice their struggles when coming to a place like Michigan State University, help each other find resources, and share their stories. Click on the image below or visit: caitlah.cal.msu.edu/divein.
My husband, Felix Gonzalez-Goenaga, and I sit each morning with our first cup of coffee and talk. This morning's topic was typical: why are people who question and challenge unchecked capitalism considered terrorists? We'd been debating the (f)utility of the "death by a thousand paper cuts" tactic. Apparently, Thomas and Lisa Eilertson have filed more than $250 billion in liens against the sheriffs, county clerks, and judge who played a role in evicting them from their foreclosed property. Mr. Eilertson told a New York Times reporter that "his actions were an effort to fight back against corrupt banks that had handed of the couple's mortgage time after time and whose top executives never faced consequences for their actions." To call the Eilertson's tactic, as the F.B.I has, a form of "paper terrorism" is to deny a legitimate, if ill-aimed, act of civil disobedience.
While I'm not endorsing their tactic (they were shooting the messengers), I do appreciate their struggle against the banks. Why didn't the Eilertsons file their liens against the bank executives and mortgage companies? I think there might be something to this tactic if it were aimed at those truly responsible for this situation.
The tools we use to identify and fight injustice are tied to the discourses of institutions meant to serve and protect. Felix understands first-hand what it means to take on an institution in and on its terms. He describes here how he successfully sued in a federal court for his right to citizenship due to him under the Cuban Adjustment Act. To file this suit, he named the Attorney General of the United States along with several other high-ranking immigration services representatives. It may seem as though he was aiming his arrows at the sun: how many people do you know sue the Attorney General? But he won his case. He identified the right players and used the language of the courts to secure his right to citizenship.
To the Mr and Mrs. Eilertsons of the world, then, identify the real culprits here for your financial ruin and eviction: the banks and mortgage counselors who wouldn't refinance your home with all the free money the Fed has been lending them. You wouldn't be terrorists in my book.
A complicated man, my father William Jerry Cushman lived a life disciplined in his quest to find a closeness to God. As long as my siblings and I could remember, our father asked us to say nightly prayers in front of a statue of the child of Prague. The Prague prayer we recited included this excerpt from Mathew 7.7. "Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." He taught us through his everyday actions later in his life to pursue our best selves, to carry the light of God in our hearts and show this light in each gesture. He taught us, by deed, to seek to comfort others, to teach, to doctor, to help others pursue their goals, to make gifts, to work hard--- to seek ways in which we could help make this world and those around us better.
Dad infused his spirituality with a "waste not, want not" attitude. He enjoyed fully and gave thanks daily for the wonders of God's grace: from the amazing view at the top of a hill, birds he could name by the dozen, a savory cookie made by a dear friend or daughter, a good cigar with his sons, ribs with a friend. He understood these to be blessings, each and every one.
My father's devotion to the teachings of the Catholic church were everywhere present in his daily actions. Perhaps this devotion was both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. It certainly was his greatest struggle. Catholic doctrine seems to have played some role in his troubled relationship with women. With daily reflection, prayer, and thoughtfulness, he tried to do unto to others, to find peace, to let go of the things he could not control, to accept those things beyond his control, to forgive, and to figure out how to love women. The more I reflect on his life and the meaning it has for me, the more I begin to make sense of his struggle.
Just before his stroke, my father, perhaps knowing his time on this earth was short, asked me what it was he taught us kids. I reassured him he had taught us much. But taking Mathew 7.7 together with my dad's waste-not-want-not attitude, I begin to see the path my father took as he asked and received, sought and found, knocked and entered:
Models of change, change agents, teaching, learning, expressive tools, and everyday struggles for dignity, resources, respect, and cultural perseverance.