Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Calm and Assertive...Dealing with Language

Cesar Millan is a famous dog whisperer that deals with owners and their dogs. It is he who believes that leadership comes from being "Calm and Assertive". This idea has some interesting applications in the human world, especially in teaching. I wanted to link this idea to the entry I have been planning write for a few days now because I believe it has a place in the solution. I am sure there is a theme visible in what I write about and the issues I talk about (within and outside of class) so this will not likely come as a surprise - I have been noticing and trying to find new ways to deal with language that is not inclusive. So here I will discuss a few of the more common phrases used that I believe lead to exclusion and hopefully leave with a part of a solution to help myself, and others, to be active witnesses.

Faggot: I would be curious to know how many people actually know what it means.
- A bundle of sticks and branches bound together
The term came to be an offensive term as referred to a male homosexual when a group of 'witches' used homosexual men as kindling for a fire.

It absolutely appalls me that someone could continue to use this word once educated as to its meaning. Yes, we have to consider that it is done simply to offend someone - but if all we can do is use words as incredibly terrible as this then all I can think of to say is that we are incredibly uncreative. But away from that tangent - those who are educated as to the origin of 'faggot' should feel obligated to pass on this information, should feel obligated to make it a part of who they are to prevent others from using it.

- Was once a diagnoses in the DSM for a medical condition or psychological disorder
At one point it would have been considered the 'proper' term to describe same-sex sexual orientation

The goal behind bringing this up is that we have to work on the context in which we use words - even words like 'homosexual' can have a negative connotation used in a wrong way. The same goes for words like 'gay', 'queer', 'lesbian', or 'trans'.

- Refers to an old anthropological reference to a skull structure consistent with those from Europe, North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia.
As one can venture, not all of these areas consist of what we know as "white" populations.

This is more of a personal pet peeve of the assumption that "Caucasian" is the politically correct way to refer to a white person. I am white. And yes, I happen to be Caucasian, but if you need to refer to my race or culture call me white or Canadian!

I will admit it can be difficult, and at times awkward, to use the word partner or to choose other gender neutral terms when asking about or referring to someones significant other - but at times the assumption that a person is straight or the assumption that a person is not straight is unfounded and we find ourselves in an awkward situation anyway.

Why not get in the habit of using gender neutral terms. Just because the societal "norm" is to be straight doesn't mean that a person who is not should be forced to choose to either lie to you by omission or have to "come out" to you just because your language implies you are assuming that person is straight. That small effort by you allows you to show you are an accepting person and makes others feel more comfortable around you. And hey, setting a good example doesn't usually hurt anyone.

I will sign off with a general comment - be aware of your own shortcomings when it comes to inclusive language. Take the time to realize when YOU are excluding someone simply through the use of a word or phrase and make the effort to find something else to say.

Take it one step further and find your most common generalizations (be they about race, gender, sexuality, parenthood, age, culture, etc). Take a second to think about a time when someone generalized you for being part of a group to realize that it is possible for people to fall outside of their groups 'norm' just like you did.

These are just a few of the "solutions" I was referring to. You will have to find your own - but the connection is that I have found it is much easier to be an active witness if you are calm (and assertive) about your views. Share your opinion, stand up for others, and stand up for yourself - but don't be afraid to listen to what the other person has to say as well!

Happy Lunar New Year!
And thank you for taking the time to read this entry and/or others.
Feel free to leave a comment just to let me know you stopped by =)

Do your part - be an active witness!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Preparing for the "Next" Step

Earlier this week I was in class when a conversation ensued that made me want to write about the notion of teaching students as preparing them for the "next" step in their lives.

So often we hear that the system should prepare students for college and university, that the system is failing our children if they do not succeed in post secondary education. I believe that we are TOO focused on what comes next and, often, that we forget about what the student needs NOW. If we get too sunk into the tunnel vision of the future we will easily forget or miss something that our students will require to succeed in our courses.

It all starts in Pre-School. We want out children to learn to co-operate, socialize, and to stimulate their cognitive growth. Focus is on the whole child and on simple skills that will effect their success through their entire future. It would make little sense to skip the letter A in the alphabet when we are starting to teach literacy - and we wouldn't do this simply in the interest of saving time because we desperately need to get to the letter Z. So why, in a high school class, should we gloss over teaching a student how to study effectively or how to make organized notes in our class just to get through the entire curriculum? Why should we always lecture to a Grade 12 class just because "that's what they are going to get in University"? - This is completely irrelevant if they are not able to actually UNDERSTAND and THINK about the concepts that they need.

Anyway, I feel like I had much more to say about this topic at the time, but my general point has been made. Maybe the only other thing I think is worth mentioning is that sometimes, using an activity or manipulatives in a Grade 10 or 11 class isn't a negative thing. Yes, the academic students should learn to conceptualize things without them, but this skill isn't easy for everyone to develop and it is more useful for a student to use manipulatives to help them comprehend than for me to force them to conceptualize something they just do not get.


An aside: I once received an email from someone that described what you should say if someone asks you what a teacher makes. (A rebuttle for those ignorant people who think that we teach for the money, the "holidays", or think that we shouldn't teach because of the money). There is a video version of this, that I have linked to here.

I have also provided a link here for an article that compares football, teaching, and the finance sector. A little long, but a good read.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I have found that my writing can get pretty structured around whatever idea I title my entries, so I thought I would leave this one a little up in the air and see what happens.

The first week of the winter semester of my B.Ed. is well underway. The snow is aplenty and the freezing rain super-annoying! It seems like the air at the Faculty is pretty upbeat considering the weather - most of us are enjoying that we are back in classes being given the chance to review what we have done in practicum and to continue to get interesting ideas from one another. I could have used with a couple of days of vacation from my break to do nothing before classes started, but have found that doing no work has done about the same thing. There are drawbacks of course; I have yet to get any real move on with my resume and covering letter writing and I have an appointment to have it reviewed in less than two weeks.

In the first three days of classes and special programming I have already heard a few things worth writing down and attended another social justice lecture. This one was about Environmental Education, and was pretty interesting as I had not really thought of Environmental Education as a social justice issue prior to yesterday. We got a taste of a couple of good resources too. There is a video that shows you what the world would be like if we kept proportions the way they are but decreased the world's population to 100. You can view the video here, it is pretty short so watch it if you have a few minutes!

One of the things that has been said since I returned to the Faculty that has really stuck with me is "Beware the 'teacher reaction' - make sure to know the facts and react accordingly". I think that is stuck with me and led to me writing it down because it is so easy to relate to. I have had many moments in my life that I can relate to this statement. It's that reaction that I have from time to time that has the look "are you seriously saying/doing/acting like that right now??????" Many social and ethical issues have become so ingrained in me over the years that it can be easy to forget that it is not necessarily the norm in society (yet) and that the individual is a result of his experiences. Which leads me to something someone said today - we must remember that we are not just teachers in the classroom, we are educators everywhere. And so, with this thought in mind and having seen myself overreact to situations in the past, I will strive to remember to step back, take in everything, and then deal with a situation. And I will strive to be an educator in my every day life and to continue to try to be an even better active witness.

Well I think that I have shared enough for tonight. I hope to continue to find things worth sharing with you!

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!