Monday, May 26, 2008

"Teachers in the 'Hood'"

I can't say that I've ever been a 'teacher in the 'hood''. I'd like to think I can interact with people from all walks of life and all places and treat them the same as others. But do those beautiful juicy altruistic thoughts and aspirations we may have always fan out into the real thing?

I've worked with kids from the inner city in my days in outdoor education. Did all the stereotypes fit? Hell no. Did some fit? Sure. Of course my time with them was often too brief to really be able to tell too much.

I can't claim to know or understand anything about their lives or even dare to think they are so drastically different from me when it comes down to the core. What I think I do know (I dare to think I know) is that it is a far cry from a likely reality to think that a little bit of time from an outsider - hero or cowboy of sorts - here to 'fix it all' would effectively turn around the lives of students dealing with socio-economic ordeals, poverty, gangs, drugs, violence, broken families: a slew of hurdles and hardships - and in additon the emotional, psychological, and social effects of these experiences. Of course each case is different and some may be dealing with more or less than others, but the fact that we are trying to give it a quick fix [in the ideology of these Hollywood flicks] it is a little unnerving. We think we CAN and SHOULD fix it. Is that our role?

I am a firm believer that all children deserve a caring teacher, who believes in them and their potential because we all - urban, suburbanite, rural dwellers, whatnot - CAN LEARN. We're all people after all, no? Bulman's description of Blackboard Jungle pinpoints a view of the students as "working-class animals" and "beasts" (page 259): as if they are a human sub-species, an inferior culture, and that their behavior is the root of problems in the schools. One of the problems may be a lack of understanding for their background and life struggles. Instead they are looked at as 'the problem' and there is a detracted focus from the surrounding circumstances of the school and community condition.

It feels to me like in these Hollywood urban high school movies (although i cannot truly speak from personal viewing experience as the sheltered soul that is me has not really seen any of them - aside from maybe "Lean on Me" many years ago) that we are trying to say we need to "change" these students. The "teacher-hero/ine" is trying to 'save' the inner city kids from themselves and their troubles, but also to change them in this whole process. The cinematic solution to the state of turbulence in some urban schools is "to reform the individual student, not the educational system or wider society," (Bulman, page 267).

Challenging and engaging learning experiences are vital for all students; we as teachers can support and guide and of course encourage, but can we change who these kids are? Can we radically change how they view life and perceive? I certainly think we can make a difference in the lives of our students by our words and actions and maybe the misguided will one day 'see the light', but that we cannot forcibly change them. And we should never try to change who they are.

No comments: