Last, But Not Least – Wrapping Up

More than any specific strategy or practice we talked about in class this semester in “Teaching Social Studies,” I would say that what I have gotten out of this semester is the focused understanding of the importance of teaching through social justice and culture, and being open, honest, and compassionate with children.

Teaching Through Social Justice and Humanism:

By this time, I know I have used this quote time and time again this semester to describe a lot of things I feel about education and human life, but here it is again, “The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race,” from E. M. Forster.  Once again, this line emphasizes where I believe it is most effective for us all to start in the classroom.  Fostering curiosity, supporting free and critical thinking, promoting acceptance, diversity, and hope are all things that I see at the forefront of my responsibilities as an educator.  In CI 448 I believe our class has done an exemplary job of believing in and discussing the challenges, benefits, and importance of teaching through tolerance, social justice issues, and change.  While certain social/emotional/historical subjects and concepts can become controversial and downright difficult to address in the classroom, especially at an elementary level, as a person passionate about alleviating ignorance in the citizens of our global society, I am committed not only to addressing these issues with my future students, but also to facilitating the development of a functioning, questioning, listening, wondering, very-rad group of students.

Teaching Through Culture:

Closely related to this general idea of acceptance and curiosity is teaching through students’ own and different cultures.  Promoting diversity and teaching social/historical concepts from a socio-cultural perspective is a large part of my own teaching philosophy.  I intend to build all my lessons, social studies or not, through personal connections to my students’ own lives and backgrounds, including their families and their own experiences whenever possible.  In my eyes, so much of what we ‘learn’ in school stems from socio-cultural experiences, from literature to music to mathematics, and obviously social studies.  I think that in CI 448 this semester, we’ve not only emphasized the importance of embracing cultural diversity, but also the importance of teaching it through your students, not from an outsider’s perspectives.  When the occasion arises that I want to teach my students about a culture or group of people who may not be represented within my class, I will do my research and homework to search for a variety of sources (including members of our community!) to build activities and discussions that will give meaningful and positive, authentic experience to my students’ learning.

Open, Honest, Compassionate Relationships with My Class and Students:

I will steal this part from my teaching philosophy statement, because I wrote it very thoughtfully and intentionally last semester, and I continue to update it.

“I believe that a child’s support system outside of school is critical to their performance and achievements within the classroom, so as a teacher I plan to involve and engage students’ parents, families, and communities regularly and frequently in classroom matters through newsletters, parent-teacher conferences, emails and notes home, phone calls, open houses, and fundraising or social events.

My students will be encouraged to become involved in and explore their work to enhance learning, because I believe that children possess a natural curiosity about the world they live in and an instinctive willingness to learn and participate in the process; engagement and hands-on instruction implemented through an effective lesson plan by a competent teacher will not only best aid in students’ learning, but will also significantly assist in behavior management, as fewer students will become and stay off-task or acting-out.  Similarly, I believe that intrinsic motivation to stay on-task and keep learning is much more beneficial to students in both the short and long run, in their maturity and emotional development as well as in their drive and commitment to live, work, and learn for themselves later in life; as a result of this ideal, any external reinforcement or rewards used in my classroom will aim to be temporary and only foster this type of internal, self-fulfilling motivation.

Most importantly, I believe that the classroom atmosphere is infinitely important in creating a safe, nurturing learning environment, and thus my classroom rules and expectations will align with my own attitude and modeled actions to promote constant positivity, genuineness, interest, non-judgment, acceptance, and above all, respect among and between all students, faculty, and others, in and out of the classroom.”

Like Mary Cowhey (loved Black Ants), I believe that my classroom should form its own community, and if that space is not a place where my student are encouraged to ask question, wonder, explore, and be themselves, then I am not doing my job of educating them to all of our full potentials.  Not to sound too New-Age-y, but I absolutely believe in the synergy of a classroom, and I think by developing significant relationships with my students as individuals, and therefore building a personal, meaningful classroom community, the energy and existence of all of our persons put together will make our classroom more effective than any kind of competition-driven, static, formal, individualistic environment possibly could.  “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” And what is more humanistic or Kelly than that?

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The four charac…

The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.

– E. M. Forster

 

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Looking Back

Looking back on the progress of this blog, all several entries this semester, I am not surprised at myself.  I see that I began my first couple posts ambitiously, delving into what I think are some meaty social justice education issues, really relating my post to the assigned readings for that week.  As the weeks progressed (and I forgot a few entries…oops), I seem to have strayed away from guided posts about the readings to inquisitive and observational posts about social studies and cultural concepts as related to my own life and the students I teach/will teach one day.  For me, this type of reflection is almost more helpful than trying to make sure what I write is indicative of my ability to read an assigned chapter or article. It places no limits on my stream of thought, and allows me to take concepts we talk about and discover in class in whatever direction is applicable to my own life, my classroom, my mood… I like this style of blog, and I may in fact continue it into next semester student teaching, and even stray away from the CI 448 component, you know? I have never kept a blog before (except for a week-long experiment into the fitness-tumblr-world), but it is an interesting way to log and articulate my thoughts, considering that others may (or may not) see it.

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Melancholy Peace, Subtly Beautiful Solitude

Melancholy Peace, Subtly Beautiful Solitude

While this photo is not from our in-class field trip to Mt. Hope Cemetery, I headed back on a gorgeous day later in the week to snap some photos with my own camera. From a humanist, social perspective, no, I do not feel it is respectful to snap photos of individual gravestones, especially with names and dates visible, for one’s own pleasure or interest. I do, however, find a graveyard to be a place of solace, calm, and faith. I find the landscape incredibly moving, and the bits and pieces of nature – like this changing bush, the old mossy stones, the shadows all about – to be beautiful and reassuring. Call me strange, but I often walk or jog through cemeteries, and as I do, I think about all the people, not only buried in them, but also each of their families and friends, and all the people their lives impacted, and on and on until the whole universe is included. For me, cemeteries are not only a place to remember and honor our passed loved ones, but also a place to understand our place in the world, not just physically, but within humanity – reminiscent of our social studies global community. Aside from this, there is the obvious cultural and historical interest of cemeteries that keeps many people intrigued. I am one of them.

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Vote for Somebody!

This video made my week last week!  Much like Mary Cowhey’s class was passionate about registering adults to vote in the upcoming election, this class (and many others across the country! Remember http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxlwYP0HNdc?) is dedicated to reminding eligible voters of their rights and civic responsibilities as American citizens.  And look, videos like this go viral! Even if most of the millions of viewers are either a) already politically involved and planning on voting or b) dismissive anyway, and just think they’re funny, these kids are still reaching out to that many people, and it could potentially make a difference.  I personally find nothing more motivating than the nation’s youth (I guess maybe I chose the right career path…).

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Give Credit Where Due

It is becoming more apparent to me that adults have a tendency to underestimate children’s moral, intellectual, and logical capabilities.  In this week’s Black Ants reading, Mary Cowhey has demonstrated that young children – 6, 7 years old – are perfectly capable of understanding and questioning complicated and taboo topics, such as slavery, racism, and morality.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, children can see the world clearly, many times more clearly than adults may be able to.  They have a pure understanding of the complexities of the world, and while they may not understand the politics or scale of major issues, they can understand the humanity (or lack thereof) of them.  Even our youngest children are capable of seeing the sense in an argument, forming an opinion, and arguing with supportive details and facts.  And more than that, Black Ants shows us that kids are capable of valuing other perspectives and really taking the time to understand where other people’s opinions come from.  That’s absolutely more than I can say for many adults.

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…And World Peace

Reading Black Ants & Buddhists Chapter 5 was rather touching.  I will admit that even in my 7th-grade social studies class sometimes, my students will say things along the lines of a ‘but why can’t we all just get along’ and ‘war is senseless,’ in different words.  Violence and complexities of war and conflict worldwide and even domestically many times don’t make sense to children, nor should they; conflict is when your sister won’t let you borrow her favorite jacket (even though you didn’t ask); war is a card game.  I’m oversimplifying, but you know what I mean?  If we look at young children as a truer form of humanity (less experienced, less bitter, perhaps even more empathetic), we can take their capacity and inclination toward forgiveness and peace as human nature, and the larger question becomes not “What can I or we do to promote world peace,” though that is a compelling question to explore, but “Why do we fight?” What is it about adults and governments and militaries that make wars happen?  What changes from the point Mary Cowhey’s 1st graders are, willing to even smoke (the absolute worst thing!) if it would stop all wars, to the corrupt? violent? immoral? disconnected? point where war is a part of our every day life, and we can talk about it, joke about it, watch it on TV, for Pete’s sake.  This could be rather tangential, but these are my thoughts. How have we come to this point?  How can we foster and support the development of this seemingly innate inclination for kids to value peace and reconciliation, instead of revenge and violence?

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