For this week’s assignment I decided to use Google docs to share my response. Truthfully I am more comfortable speaking my responses and would prefer to record myself, but I think I could get carried away very easily with this topic. By using Google docs I can limit what others have to read. In addition, I can focus on the main points of my response instead of tangents that I tend to go off on when speaking.
How many master myths/cultural models/ figured worlds are at work in your school situation? How do they conflict or agree with each other?
For the past five years, I have worked at a magnet school in the city of New Haven. I truly believe that magnet schools offer students more than just an excellent school environment. They also provide the students with day to day lessons in diversity and cultural education.
The lessons in diversity and cultural education comes from the master myths, cultural models, and figured worlds that are present amongst our student body. Since we do have a diverse population at my school, I would like to focus my response to one consistent figured world that I have seen through my five years in New Haven. This figured world pertains to families, specifically when discussing parental figures and siblings.
At the beginning of each year, the eighth grade teachers spend a day introducing the students to not only their classes, but also to themselves as individuals. The eighth grade team is made up of four women, two married with kids, one single with a son, and one single without kids. During the introductions the students ask different questions about our backgrounds and our families. Each year the teachers who are married will get asked if their husband lives with them, or how many other children their husbands have, or even if their husbands have girlfriends. These are middle school students who are very curious and in my opinion harmless. They say what they think before they actually realize what they are saying.
At first, I was sort of offended when I was asked these questions, because in my figured world I would never have imagined such a thing. As Gee stated, “A cultural world or figured world is a picture of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or normal.” To me these questions were not normal, but as my fellow teacher and I discussed, our students see these questions as normal, because this is their figured world. Most of them do not have two parents in the house. They come from single parent homes, usually their mothers are the caregivers, and they may not see their fathers often. In addition, they have multiple siblings, mostly half siblings because they share one parent, but not the other. To them the “typical” family is one where a family consists of a mother and child or children. The child’s father does not live with the mother, but usually has other children with other women.
One other example of a figured world at my school was when I told my students that I was expecting my son. My students were very excited for me, but what I found most interesting was the comment that one young lady made to the eighth grade teachers. She said that she was surprised that I was pregnant and not Ms. Walker, who is the single teacher without kids on our team. When we asked her why she was surprised, she said that she thought everyone got pregnant before marriage and if they were married without kids it meant that they could not have any. She then gave us five examples of her family members that had kids and were not married. To her this comment seemed reasonable, but to the eighth grade team we were very surprised. We later found that she did not have any family members who had kids after they were married. All of the children were born out of wedlock. When reading about figured worlds, the comment makes much more sense to me now knowing that she was only basing what she said on the world that she was accustomed to in her daily life. It was her figured world.
At first I was not sure if these examples could be related to language, but then I remembered the eighth grade language arts teacher telling me how the school district changed the novels the students were assigned to read a few years ago. They moved away from the typical eighth grade text that most schools were using and they started introducing text that, as the language arts teacher said, “ Was more culturally aligned to our student body.”
Is it (as Gee suggests) “the job of the teacher to allow students to grow beyond both the cultural models of their home cultures and those of the mainstream and school culture”???? Should it be more than “allow”, should it be “require”???? How does this play against (or with) the right of every individual to be him or herself and stay that way?
The comment made by the language arts teacher made me think a lot about my response to this question. As expressed by Gee, “All cultural models tend ultimately to limit our perception of differences and of new possibilities.” If we as educators only give our students text they can relate to, are we too creating a world that only personifies their own figured worlds?
Our eighth graders are required to read “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers, “Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case” by Chris Crowe, and “Slumming” by Kristen D. Randle. Our language arts teacher has said that she has seen students relate to these text much more than previous texts required by the district. Although they can relate more to these text, I worry that it will not allow them to be introduced to other cultural models that exist.I agree with Gee that teachers should focus students’ attention to relevant points of the cultural worlds. If we do not allow students to see the connection between worlds and help them relate them to one another, then they will only have a one sided view of society. Every individual can maintain his or her individuality with the focus provided by the teachers. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” A teacher’s role should be to help students identify the aspects of their own figured worlds that not only individualize them, but also help them succeed amongst others with similar and with different views.