The Gratitude Challenge: Week 23 and 24

Seeing as this is week 27 of the year 2015, I am a bit behind on the challenge. Part of that is the fact that I have been too tired to sit down and write, and part of it is that between the trip to Spain (which I still have yet to give proper time too), the move to Scotland, and my neverending visa issues, I do not have enough hours in the day to get everything done.

or, maybe I don’t want to.

Week 23 is dedicated to my favorite physical trait. A couple of years ago, I would have said my abs. Now, after all the stress of the program, the move, and all the change in my life, the abs are in hiding. To be honest, I would have to say that my smile is my favorite physical trait. Thanks to my mom and a really good orthodontist, I have nice straight teeth, and thanks to whitening toothpaste, they sparkle. I’m often told how great and white my teeth are, and on a flight from Germany to Estonia, a Russian man named Alexander asked me if I lasered my teeth. It took me awhile to figure out what he meant from that, but he was asking if I had my teeth professionally whitened. It made me laugh. The second thing that I like about my smile is that it brings out the dimple in my cheek. When I was a kid, that was one way that people could tell me from the wombmate, and now, I think it gives me a childlike quality that I love.

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Week 24 is a book I learned from. Being that I am a nerd and have read hundreds, if not 1,000 books, it is hard to think of just one that I have learned from. From a personal standpoint, there are so many that I am not sure that I could just pick one, but from a teaching and learning point of view, there is one book that has guided not only much of the writing and research I have done, but also helped guide me towards the type of educator that I want to be. That books is The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. Here, a very talented author and scholar (a.k.a., me) sums up the book:

First published in Portuguese in 1968, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed has become one of the most valuable texts in philosophy of education classes. The first English translation was published in 1970 and has seen several reprints and updated editions. Freire’s book is a scathing critique of the traditional top-down teaching methods where ‘instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat’ (72). This ‘banking model of education’ (Freire 2000: 70) is thus used as a tool of oppression where the teachers have all of the power, and students are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled. Freire was deeply inspired by the philosophy and works of Karl Marx and Franz Fanon, and predicated his own work on the notion that revolutionary educators were needed in order to help students become functional human beings who think critically, question the world around them, and act on their own free will in order to fight oppression and injustice. For him, true liberation, then, comes from the ability to inquire about, reflect on, be conscious of, and most importantly, to act on the world around you in order to transform it (Freire 2000: 79). For Freire, ‘knowledge emerges only through the invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, and with each other’ (Freire 2000: 72). It is up to the educator to help their students become critical beings by first seeing them as capable of higher level thinking than as equals in the process of learning, and then the teacher must trust that the students will use the skills and power they gain from this learning environment.

This book is something that I have read over and over and over again. I did not really understand what it was saying the first time I read it, but now I feel like I am an expert in liberatory teaching practices. I also feel like I have a better understanding of what it means to be a fair and just educator from having read this book. When I was in the midst of Cal State Fullerton, I had a choice to make. I could have played the game, pretended to be racist, and let the awful people in the program “fix” me, or I could stand up for what I believe in, and discuss the obvious injustice of the race that the program viewed race. This book has taught me a lot about how I can recognize those that need a voice, and how I can use my position of privilege to help those in need. As I get ready to embark on my final degree, and then a career of curriculum development, I know that this book will have a place of honor on my shelf.  I’m going to use his words to change the face of higher education one program at a time.

The Scamp and the Wide Wild World

For the last several weeks I have been reading about Paulo Freire and his educational philosophy. I have already mentioned that I envy his passion and dedication to the cause of adult literacy, and how that I hope that I can find that kind of passion and conviction when I am released into the wild to make the world a better place. It is no secret that I want to start a literacy program and help increase literacy rates all over the world. The idea of being able to travel and help people is very appealing to me. One of my favorite people already suggested a name for the foundation, The Wide Wild World, and another friend of mine told me she would help fund the project. Both told me that all they ask in return is pictures of them displayed in all of the offices. To them I say….done and done.

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To help jump start my foray into the world of literacy, I have decided to take on a pet project. Last week I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the college of education. The scholarship was presented to me by the cutest old man. He was also there to present a scholarship in memory of a dear friend of his. She was an elementary school teacher, and to help her students learn to read, she used to bring her dog to class and let the students read to him. The puppy in the classroom was so successful that public libraries all over the country have adopted as a fun story time for children. They get to pick a book, and have between 15-20 minutes to read to a therapy dog.

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The success of the program hinges on the fact that the dogs are patient and loving, and will listen to the children read the stories. A dog doesn’t care if they mess up a word, or it takes them awhile to get through a story. The kids are excited because they get to read to a dog, and they can relax knowing that they can practice their reading without being judged or criticized.

I had never heard of such a program, but it turns out there are a couple of libraries near where I live that offer the chance to read to puppies.  It also happens that the library in the city where I live does not have such a program, but does have a high illiteracy rate among children and adults.  With a little research, and some fancy words to the crazy librarian, I am going to see about starting a program of my own. I am hoping that I can get the librarians at the libraries that have the programs will be willing to sit down with me and discuss their programs and how they make it work.

I want to take the program one step further though and offer the chance for parents and adults to come and work on their literacy. I had the pleasure of working for a program called Read Orange County when I was in high school, and they offered these combo classes as a way to help adults learn English.  I worked with the kids, but the ROC staff worked with the adults on basic English skills and then helped them do things like fill out job applications, register to vote, and even do their taxes.

The tactic that they used, and the ways in which they taught people basic literacy skills are very much the same as the ones employed by Freire when he was working with peasants in Brazil in the late 50s and early 60s. He made learning relevant to them, and was able to teach 300 people to read and write in 45 days. That project became the basis for his philosophy and for the work that he did until the day he died. The methods worked, and I am hoping that I can replicate the success and help out a few people in a city that has been very very good to me.

Eventually I am going to try and start these programs all over the world, because after all, who doesn’t love books and puppies?

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The Scamp and the Brazilian

Despite my reluctance in the philosophy class, I am enjoying the final assignment. I have been tasked with picking a philosopher and not only really getting comfortable with their philosophy, but connecting that philosophy to my teaching and my everyday life.  I’ve known since the first day of class that I was a critical thinker and that I wanted to dive into the life of my favorite Bazillion critical thinker Paulo Freire.

 

photo courtesy of dcefacha.blogspot.com

photo courtesy of dcefacha.blogspot.com

I have been utilizing Freire’s theories in my teaching philosophy for years. He played a major role in the theoretical underpinnings of both of my masters. and I know that he will be well utilized in my dissertation that has yet to be written. I love his views on literacy and teaching students to take charge of their education and become global citizens for change. More often than not, I am teaching my students how to write, and how to use those skills to do research and to take an active role in their learning. I’m still new to teaching, and still trying to find my footing in how much power I give my students while meeting the curricular standards set by the college.

In the course of my research I found a book called Letters to Cristina (http://books.google.com/books?id=PViMUBJnmm8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=letters+to+cristina&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jTFeUqO_BuHqiQLGioCwCg&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=letters%20to%20cristina&f=false). The book is a series of letters Freire wrote to his niece exploring his life and work in a deeply personal and profound way.  I had only planned to skim the book to get a general sense of what his early life was like and how that might have affected his views on literacy and education later in life, and so far, I have read every word.  I am amazed at the passion that flows off the page, and the deeply reflective nature that he took all the way to his death in the late 90s. He grew up in poverty, and recognized that he was not in a position to succeed in life, and that he was going to have to work hard if he was going to make something of himself. He carried that drive and determination to everything that he did, and then developed a method of teaching that allowed people to not only learn to read quickly, but also gain a sense of empowerment in the progress they made in their reading abilities, and use that feeling of empowerment to register to vote and make changes to their place in society. Freire was exiled in  60s for his beliefs, and his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (http://books.google.com/books/about/Pedagogy_of_the_Oppressed.html?id=UtDcQgAACAAJis used in American schools of education and was circulated in South Africa during the Apartheid in an effort to rally the people to fight for change.

Reading his letters, and reading the underlying passion that is in those letters made me question my passions. At 26 years old, I am not sure I have ever had that level of passion for anything except the well being of my mother and my need to travel. One of those causes is important, but one of them is extremely self serving. The program that I am in now is preparing me to go into the world of community colleges and be a leader. I want to be the type of leader that Freire was; the type of leader that fights for the underdog and gives up his own rights and freedoms to make sure that those being oppressed have a voice.

My ultimate goal in life is to run a literacy program, whether it be a nonprofit or at a college or university. I want to work with adults as well as children, and if I get my way, I want it to be global. That way I can help people learn to read, and satisfy my wanderlust at the same time. I’m young, and still have plenty of time to find my passion, but I feel like I am already behind when I read Freire’s work. While I am not trying to be one of the great minds of this century (Although I happen to think my mind is pretty freaking awesome), I would like to be able to make a difference in one person’s life.

I’m not sure what else I will discover in the course of my research, but since I am still riding the high of the A on my dissertation, I am feeling very good about the way the paper will come together. I’m hoping that good feeling will also stay with me during my qualifying exam this summer…..anything is possible, right?

In the meantime, I will try to get in the mindset of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, and start doing some good in the world.