Saturday, June 18, 2011

Making Room for One Another – Gerri August (Extended Comments)

In the chapters from her study Making Room for One Another by Gerri August, she examines a democratic kindergarten classroom. August’s research study specifically addressed “the classroom discourse experiences of children from non-dominant family structures [in a] democratic educational environment in which broad issues of difference were recognized and honored” (August, 9). August chose Zeke Learner’s kindergarten classroom (referred to as the ZK) because his teaching “practice aligned with the principles of democratic, transformative pedagogy” (August, 4). August focuses on one student from a non-dominant family structure in her study. In her blog Alison states,Her research primarily focused on the reactions of one specific student, Cody. Cody is a student of Cambodian heritage who was adopted by his lesbian moms when he was 5 months old. Throughout the time spent in Zeke’s kindergarten classroom, August learns through democratic lessons that Cody resists to mention anything about his two moms, even during a family unit. However, towards the end of her research, August realizes that the primary reason for Cody’s insecurity and not feeling “safe” to share family stories was not as much the fact that he had two moms, but rather his adoption.” I agreed with Alison’s description of the study. I also agreed with Alison that Cody’s main sense of resistance to share centered on his adoption and feelings of abandonment more than his coming from a non-dominant family structure (having two moms). I found this quite interesting, as I think Gerri August did as well.

In her blog, Alison chooses quotes from the August reading and describes their meaning relevance to the text.  Alison’s first quote discusses the idea of schooling as a democratic society. “But what if the purpose of schooling in a democratic society is not simply to transmit and reproduce the knowledge and culture of the present order but to evaluate social and political practices according to principles of democratic ideals and, further, to equip students to become active agents in the transformation of society.” (August, 2). Alison explains her reasoning for choosing this specific quote, she states “I felt this quote was extremely relevant to August’s text because it describes the key reason for her research in Zeke’s classroom. In other words, it states that schooling is not just about teaching the “knowledge” of society’s culture of power, but rather incorporating all cultures, beliefs, and ways of life into a curriculum that creates the best pedagogy for all students. Also, it prepares students for society, and informs them that all people have differences that need to be respected.” I agree with Alison, this quote explains why August chose Zeke’s kindergarten as the setting for her study. Zeke creates a democratic classroom, he doesn’t simply transmit specific information shared by the dominant culture to his students, he encourages students to examine and question it. As Alison states, Zeke “teaches them [the students] that it is okay to wear different clothes, be a different color, or even have a different family in society today.” This is why August chose the ZK because Zeke has a democratic classroom where students from all backgrounds feel respected, valued, and safe.

Alison goes on to explain how Zeke wanted to encourage students to not take what Johnson referred to as the “path of least resistance” but to create their own new paths. Alison explains how he did this. She states, “Zeke wanted to create an environment for his students in which all students were comfortable to talk about things that personally affected them. He wanted them to really think about these topics and try to put aside any subconscious influences that they may have already been exposed to.”

Alison then discusses how Zeke creates teachable moments throughout the day. She chose the quote from the text, “Zeke demonstrated how an awkward moment can be transformed into a teachable moment.” Alison chose this quote because throughout the study Zeke demonstrates the ability to turn awkward moments in the classroom as opportunities to teach the children. Alison explains one specific instance, “One example of this was when Jackson came into the classroom with shorts on that resembled pajamas, the students pointed to him and said that he was wearing pajamas. Zeke quickly takes this uncomfortable and embarrassing moment for Jackson and says “I’ve got a pair at home just like them.” Zeke then went on to explain that there are “many different kinds of people from many different kinds of families who may wear different clothes.” Zeke’s teaching moments like this one are what created his classroom to be a comfortable place for students who learned through Zeke how to respect each others’ differences.” Zeke also extended this lesson when he came to school wearing a dashiki. When one student noticed the shirt and said, “Hello, Indian,” Zeke turned this awkward moment into a teachable one. He “steered the class from a disposition the imposed inaccurate, burdensome assumptions on an individual who manifested difference to a humbler one, one that explored difference." I completely agree with Alison, Zeke creates a safe environment for his children with both planned and unplanned teaching moments.

What I found so interesting is that despite the safe environment, Cody still did not feel comfortable sharing about his family. Only after reading “Tango Makes Three,” did Cody finally feel comfortable to discuss his family with the class. Cody’s response to the reading of this book revealed that what August had initially thought, that Cody was unwilling to share because of his two moms, was not all true. He was more unwilling to share because of struggled with his feelings about his adoption. August explains, “The reading of “Tango” was a capstone event in two ways. First it wrested me from my uni-dimensional interpretation of Cody’s participation in the family unit activities…"Tango" resonated with Cody in a way that the more didactic “Who’s in a Family” did not. It enlisted his participation in Zeke’s family unit, transforming his self-censoring into self-exploration.” The reading demonstrates how influential a teacher is to the students. Zeke’s ability to create this democratic classroom with kindergarteners inspired me. He illustrated how a teacher can “stretch students’ ideas about the way the world works and what can work in the world.” 

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