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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Cultural Humility and Creativity and Learning in the Years 2017 – 2029

Photos from portable drive 177

One Social Re-constructivist’s Journey On the Road 
to Building a More Just & Ecologically Resilient World
Photos from portable drive 201

Sasha at the Detroit Riverfront

I consider myself a social-reconstructivist artist, educator and curriculum designer. Many people ask me what I mean by – all that. According to Wikipedia, “Social reconstructionism is a philosophy that emphasizes the addressing of social questions and a quest to create a better society and worldwide democracy. Reconstructionist educators focus on a curriculum that highlights social reform as the aim of education. I like to say that when you get smarter, the world becomes a better place.

As educators, we shouldn’t ever claim to know precisely the unique gifts each individual has to offer the world and the exact right path leading to manifestation, especially in this rapidly shifting and increasing difficult world. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual but I don’t believe educators are the “sage on the stage.”  It is educator’s “duty” to guide and accompany learners to construct knowledge they will need on the journey of becoming who they are – not unlike the work of a midwife who attends a birth (the mother does the work of bringing the child into the world) or Michelangelo who created David from a piece of marble that had been twice discarded by other sculptors (David’s shape was revealed to Michelangelo in the process of working with the stone).

Author Sir Kenneth Robinson, educationalist, British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, speaks about creativity and questions whether or not schools kill it. (Click on the link to view a very clever animation of his Ted Talk). My response to his question, based on my experiences as an urban educator who taught children with diverse language, learning, and behavioral challenges … yes, we do.

I discovered the phrase cultural humility while reading Empowered Feminism and Cultural Humility  a blog article written by Sue Wallingford and I experienced an “ah-ha moment.” I talk a great deal in my presentations to graduate students (who are studying to become teachers) and teachers attending professional development about cultural competency. Cultural competence requires that organizations have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturallyThis is a well-recognized term and considered as best practice in educational circles. Wallington asserts that this term should be replaced by the term cultural humility.

Cultural Competence asks us (as author Lisa Delpit beautifully frames it) to understand that we are always teaching other people’s children, who differ from us in ways that are both visible and invisible but always impacts the access, participation, and progress of the learning. The folks at CADA explain, “While cultural competency implies that one can function with a thorough knowledge of the mores and beliefs of another culture; cultural humility acknowledges that it is impossible to be adequately knowledgeable about cultures other than one’s own.” This shifts the “center” focal point of teaching and learning and keeps it shifting. The teacher is no longer solidly at the top and center! It challenges us to examine our white privilege and not always to always ask “who’s story is being told and whose is being left out” but to listen to the stories that people different from ourselves are telling and ask ourselves how can I change from listening to this story? Wallingford suggests that …”cultural humility positions educators to speak from a place of curiosity and compassion and it constantly puts the student and teacher in the place of not knowing; never assuming to have the answers; opening always to the moment at hand, and the people encountered as worthy of their own history and complexity.”

The people at CADA also say  Humility has traditionally connoted a kind of meekness or humbleness, but it can also be used to “denote a willingness to accurately assess oneself and one’s limitations, the ability to acknowledge gaps in one’s knowledge, and an openness to new ideas, contradictory information, and advice.  Why is cultural humility important? According to CADA (and in my opinion), there are three big reasons:

  1. Cultural humility means not pigeon-holing people.  Knowledge of different cultures and their assumptions and practices is indeed important, but it can only go so far,
  2. Cultural humility is also an important step in helping to “redress the imbalance of power, and
  3. Approaching each encounter with the knowledge that one’s own perspective is full of assumptions and prejudices can help one to keep an open mind and remain respectful of the person (s) seeking involvement.

tiny feet in handThis sort of thinking not only turns the table on educators but keeps it spinning. It is not an easy path to walk your talk because it demands that we can’t “do school” they way we have been doing it over the centuries. In his presentation, Sir Kenneth reminds us that we don’t even know what specific jobs we are preparing today’s kindergarteners for. They will graduate in year 2029! So re-creating curriculum and re-designing schools and professionally developing teachers in this changing spinning world is going to take some creativity, hard work and self-reflection. I’m in – are you?

Sources:

One Social Re-constructivist’s Journey on the Road to Building a More Just and Ecologically Resilient World

” We live in an era in which the educational system in the United States seems increasingly removed from the drift of global events … schools are seen as little more than the institution most responsible for preparing young people to be successful participants in an increasingly competitive global market. Yet the world that schools are supposed to be preparing young people for is (increasingly) precarious.”   ~Gregory A. Smith

Detroit from Winsor

It has been four months since the urban k-12 public charter school (where I was sure that I would be spending the next 10 years) was suddenly closed permanently, after three years, due to high rent and the financial challenges of maintaining a building constructed in 1923. I mourn the school’s closing not only personally but professionally. I became a public school teacher two decades ago because I wanted to be part of the solution to the educational crisis in my city. This school “was born” for the same reason. The school’s vision and mission supported a place-based curriculum that encouraged creative problem-solving and active civic engagement. It served 400 children in K-12th grade, all of them living below the poverty line and most of them categorized as English Language Learners.

I recently read an older article by Educator and author, Gregory Smith in Can Schools Help Create a Post-Capitalist World? He writes that creating a school with a curriculum grounded in learning and knowledge and issues central to the human and natural communities surrounding the school is a difficult imperative in these times of high stakes standardized testing. While I continuously grieve the loss, I can look retrospectively back on the lessons of building up and watching the tumbling down of a school, as well lessons learned as important tools in my tool box for the journey ahead.

Through interdisciplinary learning (units of study that span and involve students across English language arts, social studies, science, art and Spanish) K – 12 students explored compelling topics, conducted research, did field work, posed questions to local experts and presented their findings in written papers, oral and visual presentations, workshops, dramatic productions, visual expressions, Photo Voice and handmade books. As a result, the students deepened their understandings of the topics (Common Core and State Standards intact) and their personal relationship with it. Smith describes this as, the interconnections that link different disciplines and phenomena, and the role citizens can play in preserving, maintaining, and restoring the integrity and stability, resilience, and self-renewal of … communities. In other words, as these students got smarter, the world became a better place. That is something no one can ever take from them.

Smith uses a phrase from Paul Hawkins’ book Blessed Unrest and writes about this kind of teaching, place-based education as part a global social movement in history restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. As an artist, teacher, educational therapist and social re-constructivist, these words resonate deeply in me.

Yep, I am rolling up my sleeves and getting ready for another journey!