Monday, July 21, 2014

Fighting the (Education) System

Panic, as usual, was the reigning emotion of the morning as we scrambled to achieve all of our morning hygiene routines. (I didn't realize Shebek was still asleep untill 8:48.) Fortunately, we have gotten unbelievably swift and economical in our morning preparations and we still made it to class on time.
This morning in class we broke up into four groups centered around environmental justice, feminism, labor, and education. Since we could each only be part of three discussion groups due to limited time, I chose feminism, environmental justice, and education because they have the most relevance to my life right now. In the environmental justice group we discussed a wide range of topics including frontline communities, GMOs, and how poor or marginalized communities tend to experience disproportionate effects of pollution.

The second group I participated in was the education discussion group. It was led by our teaching fellows Luna, Wanda, and Anna. Luna and Wanda both told us about their frustration about their experiences teaching in public and charter schools. Luna was in Teach for America, and she explained some of Teach for America's strategies for maintaining order in the classroom. When I saw classes full of children lined up in orderly rows and marching in lockstep, I couldn't help but think of fascism or a prison. (Just to clarify, I believe Teach for America does great things for our schools too, I don't actually think the organization is fascist.)

Wanda told us about her experiences as a special ed teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. (Spoiler alert: it hasn't been good.) For instance, Wanda's students have been so dysfunctionally placed in Inclusion Classes that nonverbal autistic kids are sent to regular Spanish classes.

After hearing stories like these, it is easy to believe that the current educational system is designed around promoting social stability and enforcing hierarchy. 

After lunch, a former student of Andy's named Julija taught us about various student movements all over the world, especially in Chile, Italy, and Philadelphia. There was also an open class discussion of privilege and safety in schools. The overwhelming consensus among our peers was that they felt pretty safe in school. This differs a little bit from my own experience, though for the most part I have still felt moderately safe for most of my time as a High School student. (The discussion reminded me of a podcast that aired a little while ago from one of my favorite radio shows, This American Life. The two episodes of TAL, which I think are just called "Harper High" after the subject of the piece, follow the lives of the students and teachers in one of the most gun-violence-afflicted schools in Chicago. I strongly suggest that my intrepid readers listen to these episodes; they are riveting and thought provoking.)

After dinner and a mandatory information session from the dean of admissions at UPenn, I went back to class to attend a screening of the film Paris is Burning, a documentary about the transgender community in New York in the 80s and 90s. The film meticulously documents the lives of poor black drag queens and the culture that sprang up around transvestite Balls. In addition to being a captivating piece of subaltern history, the documentary has given me so much new intellectual material to think about. 

Finally, when the film and post-film discussion were done, I returned to my dorm to blog and collapse into a stupor of exhaustion. 

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