Language Loss

In their introduction to Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights, McCarty and her team of guest co-editors presented a series of questions related to Indigenous education that they believed to be best explored by scholars.  The core questions were the meaning of self-determination, the placement of Indigenous epistemologies inside and outside the classroom, how human rights are implicated in these questions and their responses, and what the field of anthropology’s contribution to Indigenous peoples might be in the present and future, given the field’s damaging role in the past.  The editors acknowledged difficulty in defining some of these key terms and were careful to include the definitions they used.

I found this introduction to be insightful and educational.  For instance, I did not realize that Indigenous peoples speak such a large percentage of the world’s languages.  Based on the numbers cited by the editors, Indigenous peoples speak between 66 and 83 percent of the world’s languages despite only comprising 4 percent of the world’s population.  That’s amazing! The editors wrote that language is important because it contains local knowledge and ways of knowing.  Unfortunately, the editors also presented evidence that many of these languages are endangered because they are only spoken by older generations.  Unless patterns change, these languages will be lost when the elders who speak them pass.

The topic of language loss is personally relevant to me because I am a Latino who does not speak Spanish.  My Spanish-speaking parents made the choice to refrain from teaching me English because they wanted me to assimilate to the mainstream English-speaking culture.  My father said he didn’t want me to be teased for speaking English improperly as he had been when he was a child.  He also wanted me to do well in school, where classes were taught in English.

I wound up picking up basic Spanish by taking classes in high school and as an undergraduate in college, however, I am far from proficient.  As a result, I feel disconnected from my ethnic culture, and I feel shame that I don’t speak Spanish.  Not being able to communicate in Spanish makes me feel like I’m a “bad” Latino.  I’m especially annoyed when I am around people speaking in Spanish and I can’t understand them or when I’m listening to a salsa song and don’t know what it means.  The worst is when someone asks me if I speak Spanish (usually a fellow Latino or Latina who would like to converse with me in that language) and I have to tell that person that I don’t.  It’s like being exposed and having to confess my faults.

This makes me wonder: how do Indigenous youth feel about their inability to speak the language of their parents and grandparents?  Do they feel shame, as I do?  Are they angry about the cultural, economic, and political forces that are causing their Indigenous languages to be lost?  Has their language loss affected their cultural identity or pride?  If so, in what ways and to what extent?  Are these youth making or have they made any attempts to reclaim or save their language?  Or, are they indifferent?  What is the basis for their feelings?  Given how highly diverse Indigenous peoples are, I would suspect the answers vary.  I think it would be interesting to know percentages of each attitude toward language loss and perhaps see comparisons of attitudes toward language loss based on language.


McCarty, T.L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.


Alternative Education for American Indian Students

Jeffries, R. B. & Singer, L.C.  (2003).  Successfully educating urban American Indian students:  An alternative school format.  Journal of American Indian Education, 42(3), p. 40 – 57.


In Rhonda B. Jeffries and Lyndon C. Singer’s (2003) article, “Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students:  An Alternative School Format, the researchers explore the benefits of an alternative school that serves a significant population of American Indian students.  Black Raven High School “was created in 1994 by concerned American Indian professionals, parents and affiliated entities in response to the high academic failure and dropout rate of American Indian high school students in the public school system” (p. 45).

Black Raven High School employed 10 teachers:  3 American Indian, 2 African American and 6 Anglos.  Both the principal and assistant principal were American Indian.  And, the majority of support staff, tutors and volunteers were also American Indian.  The majority of the 9th – 12th grade students between the ages of 14 – 18 identified as American Indian.  The American Indian students that enrolled had either already dropped out or were at risk of dropping out.  Referrals for student enrollment came from other schools and the students’ families.  Student enrollment was limited to 80 students, however, about 70 students would show up on any given day.  Class sizes did not exceed 15 students, with the average being 7-8 students.  Black Raven’s developed a philosophy of values that promoted “a sense of community, self-esteem, ethnic identity and pride, and an appreciation of all cultures and their relevance in today’s society” (p. 46).

Data were collected through observations and “life history interviews with students, teachers, the administrative assistant, and the principal” (p. 46).   The data for this study included perspectives from 1 administrator and 3 students.  The case study was centered around one educator “whose use of culturally relevant curricula has made a significant impact on a randomly selected sample of American Indian students’ lives” (p. 46).  Data were analyzed through the creation of verbatim transcripts, coding the transcripts to develop thematic frameworks using the constant comparative method, and then recoded for confirm the themes initially established.

The data revealed “significant factors contributing toward American Indian/Alaska Native student success” were “(a) small school size, (b) flexible school formats, (c) governance structures, and (d) culturally responsive teachers” (p. 52).  When school size and flexible schedules uncontrollable, the study found that culturally responsive teachers were enough to “create conducive environments” (p. 52).


I appreciated the researchers desire to examine non-traditional education as it pertains to the education of American Indian students.  Much of the research that I have discovered has been focused on traditional educational systems such as public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools.  I think too often researchers are focused on the traditional educational systems’ lack of equity and quality that they are unaware of the assets that do exist within the system.

However, I would like to know if the researchers considered examining a rural alternative school.  I would be interested to know if they were able to come up with similar findings.  And, if not, what were the reasons for the differences.

I would also like to know the impact this school made in regards to the initial concerns of academic failure and dropout rates.  Did the school create an increase in academic achievement and retention to graduation?

My other concern was the small number of participants in this study.  Only 1 administrator, 1 teacher and 3 students were included in the case study.  I would have liked to read the perspectives of the other administrator, the other 9 teachers, and the other 77 students that made up the school body.  Again, I am left to wonder if the researcher limited her data to these 5 individuals because it proved what she wanted to prove.

I would also have liked the data collection to include interviews and perspectives from graduates.  How did this school change their lives and lead them to graduation, which they may not have accomplished otherwise?

I would also have liked to see the statistics over the course of its existence that included student enrollment numbers, pre- and post-test scores, and attendance, dropout and graduation rates.  I understand that students enjoy the non-traditional approach, but did it have an effect on the data?  If not, then what is the point?  If so, what other interventions did the school provide for the students to achieve this?


As I read this article, I found myself writing in the margins “I need to do this” or “how can I do this?”  I am always looking for ways to improve our program.  And, hopefully, this year, with a new staff coming in, we will be able make significant changes.  However, I know the scope to which we can make these changes will be limited by administration.  But, I will fight for them anyway.

Because I work in an alternative school on the reservation, I was interested in what the study would find.  However, these are all things that I think would benefit any student both Natives and non-Natives.  Culturally relevant teaching should not only pertain to American Indian culture.  It did give me some ideas as to how we may be able to incorporate non-traditional activities into our curriculum.  How I am going to this, I am not sure exactly considering I have 7th – 12th grade students in my classroom at the same time and each is working on coursework specific to them.  I am interested in the new perspectives that will be coming in that may be able to assist in this process.

I especially appreciated this point that Jeffries and Singer addressed “we must remember that American Indians/Alaskan Natives represent over 200 distinct cultures.  What works beautifully on the Navajo Reservation falls flat on the Rosebud Reservation and may be inapplicable in an urban setting representing 60 different cultures” (p. 54).  It is critical that researcher and educators keep this in mind.  I do not like the generalizations that literature often makes about Native Americans.  And, this is precisely why I am only interested in focusing on my tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation.  It is the community in which I live and my family is from.  It is the community in which my children will attend school.

A Brand Ecosystem for Higher Education

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126

“Utilizing The Brand Ecosystem Framework in Designing Branding Strategies for Higher Education” includes a compelling rationale for the importance of branding institutions of higher education and a framework for developing a brand.  Building off of an extensive review of the literature, the authors provide information specific to higher education institutions (such as challenges associated with the narrow view of branding), present a brand ecosystem, and demonstrate the importance of having a fully integrated effort.  The literature review includes numerous general marketing sources as well as those specific to higher education.

In the article, the authors use a coherent well-organized approach that includes examples of branding and its components both from outside of and within higher education.  This approach, particularly the examples of branding in higher education, presents a clear reason for the value of branding to a higher education audience that may be less familiar with the concept.  The main goal of the article is to present a theoretical framework that includes the major factors and interactions of these factors in developing a university brand (Pinar, Trapp, Girard, & Boyt, 2011).  This theoretical framework is the articles primary contribution to the field.  There was no primary data gathered by the authors and the analysis was based on the information gleamed from the literature review.

With the recent economic downturn, reduced higher education funding from states (for state colleges and universities), and the increase in for profit competitors, higher education institutions have looked for alternative ways to maintain or improve the services they provide.  A number of institutions have explored branding.  According to Kotler and Keller (2006), a brand represents customers’ perceptions and feelings about the product (or service) and its performance.  As one of the most important assets of an organization, brands need to be thoughtfully developed and managed.

Some in higher education view branding as only marketing communication such as brochures, logos, and websites.  A brand is much broader than that and includes the experiences of students, alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.  In higher education, a more significant challenge is the “ideological gap” between designing the university experience to meet student expectations and designing the service to meet what the institution believes the students should experience.  Brands that are successful at the university level focus on students and their needs, not on what the university believes students should need (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  For many universities, the focus on students’ needs will only occur when there is a substantial paradigm shift and operational changes throughout the institution.  These changes may be necessary but likely won’t be easy.

The theoretical framework presented by the authors is called a brand ecosystem (Pinar et al., 2011).  In a brand ecosystem, the preferences and expectations of the target market are the driving force.  Also, every internal and external activity in the brand system inter-relate and should contribute to reinforcing the desired brand image and customer experience with the brand, both short-term and long-term.  With the perspective that students are the only reason universities exist, the center of the brand ecosystem is the student experience, as indicated in the graphic below.  The core value created by the university experience is learning through teaching and research.  Other activities that create value for students include student life, sports, and community activities or service (Pinar et al., 2011).  While these ancillary services may not be essential, they impact the delivery of the core academic service and all services interact to create the entire university experience for students (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  The brand ecosystem also includes the experiences of alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.

Like other services, the students’ education experience is the sum of all encounters including student-faculty, student-administration/staff, and student-student interactions, any of which has the capability to influence students’ perception of the university brand.  The academic experience, for example, can be viewed as the sum of classroom lectures and discussions, homework, tests, class projects, internships, student research supervised by faculty, conversations between students and faculty, academic advising, etc.  Each encounter can improve or negatively affect the students experience and therefore, the brand ecosystem is a compilation of the interrelated experiences over time that share a common focus and direction (Pinar et al., 2011).  Due to the importance of these encounters, universities should clearly articulate the desired student experience and provide a strong internal branding program and provide faculty and staff with the necessary training and support, particularly for those whose duties require direct contact with students.  Highly qualified faculty, staff and administrators are essential to creating excellent student experiences with the brand ecosystem.  Universities should clarify the roles and behavior needed from all employees to deliver on the promises of value associated with the brand.  A university brand and a student experience have an interdependent relationship.  The brand communicates the type of experience (i.e., promise and expectation) while the experience reinforces and (hopefully) builds the brand.  In turn, the brand facilitates the next experience in a relationship that continues in a dynamic and mutually rewarding way.

My view

The authors write with a well-informed marketing perspective that is firmly grounded in higher education.  Some in higher education continue to believe that branding is not appropriate and incompatible with traditional academic values.  I believe that good branding not only is aligned with academic values but can bring them to the forefront.  It isn’t one or the other.  Without branding, universities face greater risk of declines in enrollment and, more importantly, a missed opportunity to become more student focused.

The article presents the rationale for branding in an effective manner for those in higher education.  In addition, the brand ecosystem provides a high level model for universities willing to take the first step in developing a brand.  The authors suggest future research on implementing measuring and testing the brand ecosystem model and I agree.  Developing the model is helpful; implementing and testing it would provide great insight into the model’s effectiveness and capability to facilitate the adoption of much needed branding initiatives in higher education.

Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2006). Marketing Management (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ng, I., & Forbes, J. (2008). Education as service: the understanding of university experience through the service logic. Journal of Marketing Higher Education, 19(1), 38–64.

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126


Where is the humanity in education?

Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELS Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? 

By Mary Martinez-Wenzl, Karla Perez, and Patricia Gandara

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


The article is of great personal interest to me as I have taught English Language Learners (ELL) for the last 17 years.  My teaching methodologies have been drastically encumbered by Arizona’s English-only and Structured English Immersion legislation.  I am required to teach ELL students in a segregated environment.  Students are with me for minimum of four hours a day for explicit instruction in reading, writing, conversation and grammar during the prescribed times. During this time, I am the only native and proficient English speaker among the group. Students remain segregated for the rest of the day as they move in groups to mainstream content area classes.  In those classes, they are often separated off to a corner of the room, or partnered with a mainstream student that speaks their native language to lend them support.  For a program that purports English language acquisition, it allows ELL students little or no exposure to authentic English interactions for with the native language speaking peers or even teachers.  Through this article’s exploration of the segregative, English-only, heritage cultural and language negating constructs of Arizona’s Structured English Language Immersion program, the domination of white culture interests in today’s educational system is confirmed.

The article gives an overview of the legislative actions that have led to the Structured English Language program for English Language learners in Arizona today.   Arizona has the nation’s most restrictive English-only law. Proposition 203, passed in 2000, mandates that all public school instruction be taught only in English.  As part of a ruling from 1992, Flores v. State of Arizona, in which a Nogales parent brought forth a class action suit for failing to provide English Language Learners (ELL) with equitable programs or to take “appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs” (Title 20 U.S.C. § 1703(f)) required under the Equal Educational Opportunity Act.  To ensure Arizona state districts were providing adequate instruction for the ELL students, the state passed HB2064.  It provided specific guidelines for the teaching of ELL students.  Part of the bill created a task force to develop a research-based program for instructing ELL students.  The task force adopted a four-hour SEI (Structure English Immersion) program developed by Kevin Clark.  Mr. Clark is a former board member on the Board of Academic Advisors for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) Institute, a conservative think tank for advocating the superiority of English-only programs.

Through professional development in my district, I have attended 5 sessions of day long “Grammar Camp” presented by Kevin Clark and Clark Consulting Group.  Mr. Clark is a very dynamic, charismatic, and believable speaker.  He always has a gimmick, story, or some outrageous fact to share about language acquisition.

As a member of the task force, Clark was required to present research to substantiate his SEI program.  Clark developed a 13-page document titled “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs”. Clark (2007) noted it was not a comprehensive review of literature, but “merely a search for supporting research” (as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). Highly respected, published, linguists, educational researchers, and university professors, Krashen, Rolstad, and Macswan found that in review of Clark’s document, his research did not properly reference his area of inquiry nor were his findings appropriately based on the outcomes of the research (Krashen, Rolstad, & MacSwan, as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). With no regard to overt discrepancies, Clark’s model was adopted. His summary and bibliography became the record of recorded research for program implementation.

I cannot first handedly speak to the motivation of the task force members to approve a model with little or no valid research to confirm the program’s validity.  Common sense would lead me to assume that policy makers with such an important mission would want to conserve valuable time and resources by implementing an ELL program that had proven successful through numerous reputable research studies.  As an outsider, I would theorize that the members may have been influenced to readily approve Clark’s SEI programs because it wholly supports the English-only mandate for instruction in Arizona schools.

Another focus of this paper was to review research to determine which model of instruction was the most successful for ELL students. The first two reviews by the National Literacy Panel (NLP) and The Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) of research used meta-analyses to combine data from 500 collective studies and use statistics to calculate the average effectiveness of each program to teach ELL students English.  The studies looked at time on task and language transfer.  The review established that literacy in a student’s heritage language facilitated academic literacy in English.  Bilingual approaches were more humane for ELL students, aiding in social development as well as supporting them academically.  Additionally, the comparative studies found evidence contrary to Arizona’s theory that 4-hour explicit instruction in English SEI would lead to faster language acquisition; “more time in English does not necessarily result in more rapid acquisition of English” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.10).

In conclusion, the authors of this study determined that Arizona’s approach to educating its ELs was not superior to other forms of instruction.  The authors warn that implementation of this model “carries with it additional risks of segregation, isolation, and high school dropout” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.25).

The idiom of this paper was appropriate for educational practitioners and administrators. The paper was developed in a traditional format with the question stated at the beginning, rationale for the study, evidence from multiple research studies, explanation of the methods and findings, and finally the results.  For academic research minded scholars, the paper offered nine pages of evidence, reviews, research studies, statistics and bar graphs.  The authors’ detailed explanations made the findings comprehensible even to me, a novice researcher.

The findings from this paper are frustrating, incomprehensible and disconcerting to me as teacher of ELL students because I am a believer in equitable practices for all students, and a participating member in a program that is detrimental to immigrant students in English language programs.  It questions my abilities as an action researcher to impact change inside of a political and educational structure whose undertakings ensure the dominance of one culture group at the expense of another.  Where is the humanity in education?



Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. section 1703(f)(Supp.1984).

Krashen, S., Rolstad, K., & MacSwan, J. (n.d.). Review of “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs” of the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force.

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


Online Learning as Professional Development?

Holmes, A., Singer, B., & MacLeod, A. Professional development at a distance: a mixed-method study exploring inservice teachers’ views on presence online. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, p76-85. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from


Professional Development, I’m finding, is being viewed as more and more essential for teacher preparedness to deal with diverse student populations and a teacher’s ability to respond to the ever-changing educational landscape that seemingly shifts its priorities quite often. This is a good thing, as it ensures that I’ll have a job for a long time to come. However, all joking aside, Professional Development, when implemented and facilitated correctly and effectively, can have significantly positive impacts on students’ achievement and outcomes (Holmes, Singer, & MacLeod, 2011). Yet, the challenges presented by this raise questions of access, impact, and excellence.

In their article, Holmes, Singer, and MacLeod (2011) seek to address two of the three aforementioned challenges, each of which I will discuss in turn, as well a missed opportunity to reflect upon the impact of their study, which I will also address in this post, by examining the role of online learning in Professional Development. Using a mixed methods approach, the authors looked at the outcomes of five different online Professional Development courses, as measured by participant course evaluations, which utilized 24 Likert-scale questions, as well as two long-answer responses. The teachers who participated in this study taught, exclusively, at private schools, with the majority working with students in grades 3-8 (Holmes, et al., 2011).

Upon an analysis of the data, they found several connections between teacher demographic information and satisfaction with online Professional Development; most notably, there was a strongly positive correlation between the number of online Professional Development modules a teacher had previously taken and their overall satisfaction with the course they were currently enrolled in. This suggests that teachers who have enjoyed Professional Development online in the past are the ones, who, by and large, are the ones who come back for further development in this medium, which, when one thinks about it, makes sense. If I’ve found value in something in the past, given its convenience, my ease and comfort in the medium, I will likely engage with it again.

Traditional teacher Professional Development, which occurs in person, through face-to-face interactions and facilitation, can be stymied as schools and/or educational agencies are concerned about cost effectiveness, something I can personally understand, given that I work in the field. This issue of access to content and facilitation is meant to be mitigated by the cheaper online modules, as suggested in Holmes, Singer, and Macleod’s (2011) discussion of the background of Professional Development and Online Learning.  However, the idea of access also presents an additional challenge when it comes to teachers who are not technologically proficient. Holmes, Singer, and Macleod (2011) suggested that teachers who self-assessed as being weak or uncomfortable with technology, or had only ever participated in in-person Professional Development, were unlikely to rate the course highly, and responded that they were also unlikely to take such courses again. If facilitators and providers of Professional Development seek to use this medium for large swaths of the teaching population, then they will also need to find ways to support those who lack the technological proficiency to be successful in such a program.

The idea of supporting educators who struggle to use technology has implications for me and for my community of practice, as I begin to think about my innovation. Participants, almost universally, see the role of the facilitator as crucial to the success or failure of a Professional Development session or module (Holmes, et al., 2011). For successful online learning and Professional Development, then, the person or persons in charge of facilitating the modules must ensure that the participants are comfortable with the medium, prior to engaging with the content, or that they have the support systems in place so those educators know where to turn, when they have questions, which they ultimately will.

The second issue raised by this research study is one of excellence, which I am operationally using to mean high quality, for the context of this post. Previous research has suggested that certain criteria must be met, in order to meet a threshold of quality: purposeful design, skillful facilitator(s), rich conversations and reflections centered on classroom instruction, and integration with powerful teaching methods (Holmes, et al., 2011). If online learning will be used to engage teachers and other educators in Professional Development, then the sessions, courses, or modules must meet the above requirements for quality Professional Development. If participants do not see connections to their daily teaching lives, and do not have meaningful opportunities to engage with their fellow colleagues, then the online learning and Professional Development will not meet the requirements of excellence, and will be a waste of teachers’ time.

This, to me, is one of the most important considerations for any innovation I seek to implement into my community of practice; if I cannot implement my innovation well, then it is not an innovation that is worth being implemented at all. This underscores the importance of being very purposeful and thoughtful in the design of any innovation, so as to make it an effective and useful experience for anyone who participates in it.

The last issue raised by this article that represents a missed opportunity on the part of the researchers was to study the impact that their Professional Development courses had on the outcomes of students in the classrooms of the teachers. The authors, by their own admission, suggest that effective Professional Development should better prepare teachers to work with their students in some capacity, for example, classroom management, differentiation, or instructional strategies, among others (Holmes, et al., 2011). The researchers did ask participants if they had implemented any changes in their classroom based on the online Professional Development, and, while 74.8% of them said that they had, there was no measure on the outcomes for students, and whether those changes led to an improvement in student achievement (Holmes, et al., 2011). Seeing this missed opportunity serves as a good example to learn from, in that I should always try, whenever possible to measure the impact that my innovation has on students and their achievement, as that is what really matters.

Why Now?

This week’s readings seem to focus on how people are represented in research.  The study by Rodaldo questioned, “Why does the highly serious classic ethnographic idiom almost inevitably become parodic when used as self-description?” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 48) Our descriptive language in ethnography used to describe things was distancing and “dehumanizing” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 54).  We learned that, “There is no single recipe for representing other cultures” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 61)    Similarly, there was a study done on the “peer effects to make classrooms more efficient and equal” (Pivovarova, 2014, p.2) We learned that,  parents will pay for their children to be with better performing peers but it may not really matter as much as they think (Pivovarova, 2014, p.2).  The research has shown that “Peer effect is achievement specific, the diversity of abilities in the classroom does not seem to be a factor that determines own achievement gain of a student.” (Pivovarova, 2014, p.3) In this example parents are attempting to distance their children from under achieving students.

Indigenous peoples are defined as people that still maintain and practice some of the culture and society of the people that once inhabited the country before colonization.  Evidently, researcher’s are realizing that the population of indigenous people is shrinking and with it human history.  For example, notice “the underlying processes of cultural, economic, social, and political displacement that lead to language loss- what some scholars have labeled linguistic genocide” (McCarty, 2005,p.2)  Preservation appears to be the motivation for the research and support of indigenous people.  Why else ask the question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?”(McCarty, 2005,p.1)  And why do we wait until now to ask this question? This is an example were people are attempting to distance themselves from the rest of society to preserve their culture.

Is there a renewed possibility for change in human activity where the dominant culture will give up on its demands for conformity?  “The coincidence of the change of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.158)  People and civilizations have been making attempts to divide and conquer since history began.  Maybe it is primal instinct of self preservation/survival of the fittest that is the cause for the number of laws written and broken by people every year.  It seems that when something new or different is revealed, people must learn about it, master it and control it.  Only now are we realizing “that anthropology and anthropologists have historically been complicit in colonizing projects that have undermined Indigenous epistemologies and human rights” (McCarty, 2005,p.1).  In other ways, research has divided and sought domination by its observations where the “researched is the object/other/subject whose existence is described /prescribed by members of the dominant culture model of knowing.” (Denzin, Lincoln and Smith, 2008,  p.86) The challenge will be to find a method of change that will avoid revolution and seek cohabitation.

The International Society for Culture & Activity Research (ISCAR) is asking “what is needed for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world.” (Lave, 2012, p.156) First, we must recognize “that the conduct of research is an engagement in political practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)  Second, “Each of us has much to learn, but together we can help ourselves and one another to understand more adequately our own political situations and struggles and those of the people whose lives we study.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)


Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous

Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture and Activity, 19(2), 156171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education SelfDetermination,

Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 17.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton

Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.


Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon

Linguistic cultural association and ethnography

This blog post comments on an idea prevalent in McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas’ (2014) chapter on ethnography with indigenous youth.  The first ethnographic vignette in this chapter focused on a conversation with a ninth grader, aged 16, attending a “Navajo community school” (pp. 84).  One of the major themes of the conversation, and one that the researcher admitted she failed to fully connect until well into the interview, is that language often cannot be disconnected from other prescient social factors—culture, racism, and environment as examples.  She noted that the student “repeatedly returned to the integrity of the human and physical landscape in which Dine identity is rooted” (pp. 87).

This idea of interconnectedness brought me back to my first ethnographic field trip.  I was working as an interviewer with a group of cultural anthropologists from the University of Arizona and Native American elders from several southwestern Nations.  We were traveling to the Timber Mountain Caldera, a landscape containing several pan-culturally significant sites that also happened to lay directly in the middle of the Nevada Testing Site (NTS).  The NTS, controlled by the federal Department of Energy, has a long history of classified weapons testing—including the nuclear bomb in the mid-Twentieth Century—as well as a somewhat colorful history working with indigenous groups (Zedeno, Stoffle & Halmo, 2001).  Before any new testing projects can begin, the agency of record must conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA), which determine risks to the geological landscape and native flora or fauna, and social impact assessments (SIA), which determine cultural risks to people, either living nearby or historically associated with a place.

Many of the first SIAs were informed by the standard, and predominantly white, idea of the desert as a negative space with no connection to history or culture.  When faced with the sometimes quite complicated historical and cultural associations with the land in question, federal authorities often responded with disbelief or hostility.  In return, indigenous groups often became more concrete in their language of a place, and more demanding of federal consideration.

This history was beautifully telescoped in the highway sign for Mercury, NV, the NTS checkpoint that houses offices, cafeterias and lodging for personnel at the site: It read “NO SERVICES,” and was flanked at the turn-off by several “DO NOT ENTER”s and “GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL ONLY”s.  This was flanked, at the end of a long dirt road, with a barricaded front office, where we were required to present two forms of ID to an official who already knew our names.  Although we joked about it in the moment, it was the most singularly intimidating town entrance I’ve ever seen, and it had a tangible effect on the elders, even before any interviews were conducted.  It disconnected them from land that culturally was theirs, angered them and drastically changed the tenor of our ethnographic interviews from outside of the NTS.


McCarty, T.L., Wyman, L.T. & S.E. Nicholas. (2014). Activist ethnography with indigenous youth.  In D. Paris & M.T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities.  Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.

Stoffle, R.W., M.N. Zedeño, and D.B. Halmo. (2001). American Indians and the Nevada Test Site: A Model of Research and Consultation.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office

Losing Language

Chapter 5 in Humanizing Research, “Activist Ethnography With Indigenous Youth:  Lessons From Humanizing Research on Language and Education” by Teresa L. McCarty, Leisy T. Wyman and Sheilah Nicholas, resonated with me.  Indigenous languages are quickly fading.  I see it every day in our youth.  Not all youth have the desire like Jonathan and Justin to learn their Native languages.  Their identity is reflected through their knowledge of their history and their language.  I have had a Jonathan and a Justin, but they are few and far between.

I have talked extensively with my students about learning the culture and the language.  All of them are proud to be Tohono O’odham.  But, very few participate in traditional activities.  They have all taken culture classes in elementary, middle and high school.  In fact, Tohono O’odham History and Native American Studies are required courses for graduation.  In addition, the high school offers Tohono O’odham language classes.  However, the access to these courses is limited in all grade levels.  I think a large part of this is due to the small number of culture and language teachers that we have in the district.  At the very same time, I wonder if we would have more teachers if the district wanted more teachers.  But, that’s a whole other story.

In 2012, the State Board of Education adopted the Native American Language Certification Policy R7-2-614J, which was developed by the Arizona Department of Education and Arizona’s tribal nations (  This policy allows for traditional language speakers to obtain teaching certification through a non-traditional route.  Tribal nations are responsible for developing their own assessments for measuring proficiency.  And, with a passing score on the assessment, a fingerprint clearance card and an application fee, Native speakers are eligible for the Native Language Teacher Certificate (

I know that some of the culture teachers that we have had have utilized this alternative teaching certification.  I believe that this has been extremely beneficial to our district, and, more importantly, our students.  Like McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014) learned from their studies, students are disengaging in their Native languages at a rapid rate and very few are committed to learning their language.  I have experienced this with the youth that I work with.  While many know some vocabulary, stringing together sentences seems like a task not worth attempting.

For the last 3 years, I have had a young woman, now 18, who knows O’odham relatively well and is interested in learning the language.  But, it is something that she keeps very close to herself.  She will not speak it in front of her peers.  When I ask if anyone knows how to say such and such in O’odham, I will glance at her.  If her classmates are around, she will just shrug and say that she does not know like many of my students.  In private, she will tell me what I asked for earlier.  I have asked her several times about this and she said that she does not want to get made fun of for speaking the language.  I have even encouraged her to take the language courses offered, but she refuses because she knows she will have to speak it in front of other students.  She said that she only speaks it at home with her grandpa, which seems to be the trend across Native cultures, according to McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014).

How can we change this?  I honestly have no idea.  I wish I knew.  I wish our youth would see the value in learning our language and culture.  But, I also understand their perspective.  Who else values their language besides other O’odham?  Facebook is not in O’odham.  Television programs and movies are not in O’odham.  Google does not translate English to O’odham.  And, their education is not offered in O’odham.  I know parents/guardians who do not know O’odham either, therefore, they are unable teach their children.  So, whose responsibility is it to teach our youth their language before it disappears forever?

McCarty, T. L., Wyman, L. T., & S. Nicholas (2014).  Activist ethnography with Indigenous youth:  Lessons from humanizing research on language and education.  In D. Paris & M. T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research:  Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 81-103).  Los Angeles, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Silva, L.  (2012, Aug. 28).  Native American language teacher certification.  Retrieved from

Not So Easy To Do In Real Life

It’s the age-old question: “Should we track them or should we mix them?” (Pivovarova, 2014). Usually, this question pertains to student placement in classrooms, especially in regards to academic achievement levels. For me, this is both a philosophical question and a real life one.

Philosophically, I believe mixing kids is a good thing. I agree that higher student models are necessary for lower kids, and sometimes peers are able to explain things in a way that makes more sense. I also try to remember that students are more than just their academic abilities. They bring so many more things to the table! They have artistic talent, leadership skills, social know-how, persistence, calmness… We need students with all these skills in a classroom so that they can all be models and can learn from one another. We would never dream of putting all the “leaders” in one class and the “followers” in another – no one would want to be in either room!

But in life, it is much harder to make heterogeneous classes happen. To start, in Arizona, English Language Learners (ELL) students are put in a separate ELD (English Language Development) class depending on their score on the ELL test. No English-only students are placed in an ELD class, so these kids are essentially tracked. (They are usually lower academically, because they are still learning the language.)

Then there are the gifted kids. My district changed the way it enriches gifted students a couple of years ago. They used to be mixed throughout all the classes, and the gifted teacher pulled them out once or twice a week. Now each grade level has a class with all the gifted kids. This, too, creates tracks, because they tend to do well academically (even though gifted does not necessarily mean high academics).

And then there are all the other kids in the middle. They’re not gifted and they only speak English. They have to be divided up among the rest of the teachers. When we create class lists each year, we try to even out the number of boys vs. girls, the number of students with special education, the number of well-behaved students with the ones who have more trouble. But it’s hard when the classes are already half-determined!

In my school, they have utilized both models as best they can in the younger grades. Classes are, as much as possible, heterogeneous. This allows for mixed groups, differentiated instruction, and hopefully lots of peer modeling. But for 45-60 minutes a day, all the kids at a certain grade level (say, 2nd grade) are mixed up and move to homogeneous groups during part of their reading block. The kids who are above grade level get extension activities, and the below grade level ones can focus on the parts of reading that are hardest. It has worked pretty well at my school, and helps to off-set some of the drawbacks to heterogeneous classes.

In her article, Pivovarova (2014) found that “peer group composition matters.” She compared low, marginal, average and high students. She found that all groups benefit from being placed with high students, and low students generally didn’t impact the other groups (aside from bringing down marginal learners). She also found that all groups did better when placed with others of their own level. As I mentioned earlier, this philosophically makes sense to me. For her research, though, Pivovarova (2014) only examined academic ability as measured by a specific test. I would love to see something like this completed for other qualities, like leadership or social skills or behavior. I think that if we focused on improving other areas, like the ability to get along in groups or problem-solve in real-time, academic achievement would ultimately go up, too.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton

Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Who gets to tell the story and why.

I was particularly moved by one of our readings this week. The excerpts from Rosaldo’s text, Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis struck me with a few insights (1994). I was really surprised by a comment that one of Rosaldo’s colleagues had made in regards to one of Frantz Fanon’s anecdotes. Rosaldo’s colleague discounted the account and its perspective because of the participatory narrative of the incident, “it just says that it takes one to know
one” (pg 188). This entire text has helped me understand the history and range of types of stances that one must consider and take when capturing an ethnography, but I must say that I was so surprised to see devalued or undervalued the ethnographies of individuals from within an subaltern group.

I personally connected it to how historical museums are set up or even historical documentaries. That the “unemotional” fact telling narrator is one important way to convey information but the individual, connected storylines or first person accounts are what help us relate our humanity to the humans who experienced the events.

I think that one thing I’ve really begun to pull from our readings and discussions is the awareness that we can never truly “divorce” ourselves from our research or “storytelling” and therefore if we’re forcing ourselves to be “unemotional” and detached in our writing, why is that? Why am I involved in this research in the first place? Can I acknowledge my position, historical context, and perspective and incorporate that transparently and wisely into my work?

One other glaring moment from this text and author comes after he shares and analogy to the interplay of power and position and the oppressed in telling their own story. In contradiction to his colleague’s dismissal of the concept of the oppressed analyzing and writing about their own state, Rosaldo states that in fact our field and peers miss out on something essential if the oppressed don’t write about their own situation (pg 189). He uses the analogy of a master to slave relationship to cue us into who may have the more difficult time truly encompassing all of the perspectives in a situation. The slave or oppressed gambles their daily survival on analyzing and interpreting the mind of the master. It however, seems to be that the one in power never has to engage in the analysis and interpretation of mind of the oppressed. They are engaged in merely ensuring that their own needs are met and how to keep those needs being met. Therefore, as Rosaldo states, it takes a more “imaginative leap to discover slave consciousness” (pg 189). This caveat helps establish the importance of gathering multiple accounts and perspectives in situational ethnographies and having an awareness of our historical, societal positionality.

I will say, that in general, this week’s readings on indigenous epistemologies and struggles with linguicide has highlighted one of my own personal passions around dual language immersion schooling. Some of my passions arise out of my own life experiences with racism and societal shame that is built up in the USA around speaking languages other than English. I think if I had a choice of what area of inquiry I could follow and it not be tied to my current work, it would be dual language immersion or bilingual education. I personally feel heartened by these last two weeks of readings because I sometimes feel battered down by local or national politics and propaganda that really belittle people, heritages, cultures and language and for either purposes of hidden agendas, ignorance or fear. I was about to say misplaced fear, and though I do think there isn’t a fear in honoring people, their history and language, I do think that people who oppress should be fearful of the oppressed. Time and time again, it has been these marginalized communities who have demonstrated centuries of hearty resistance and persistence and they have yet to be crushed.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Mixed classes: pre-tracking(?) a realization(?)

The achievement of students on whether or not they are mixed together based on their achievement levels, and if there were positive or negative implications of these groups is the central theme of the article by Pivovarova(2014).  This article brought me to a realization that I may have been in such an environment during elementary school.  I find it interesting that the timing of my experience it what I remember being called “quad learning”/”group learning”,  took place during fourth through sixth grade, very close to the grade levels of those in the research. 

“Quad learning” was introduced to us as a way to learn to work with peers, in groups of four desk clustered together, and to assist each other when problem solving, reviewing readings, etc.  Now understanding that I went to a small school, average class size was 25-30 students, and we were with the same group through all classes, but in each course we were assigned different groups of 4.  Looking back on some of my classes and groups I can almost see that we were mixed based on our achievement.  Each cluster had what would be considered in the article, one high, two average, and one low achieving student. Although we did not know this as students, we just knew that this was our group.

Throughout the course of the year, usually after a midterm, and always after winter break, the groups would be rearranged and we would have a new group that we would work with.  I now wonder, was this because of test scores, remixing the groups to maybe put some higher achieving students with a new peer group of average and lower achieving students to see if the new group would improve the others.  I can remember during our group work, that those of us that really enjoyed the topic would be engaged and continue discussion/debate, or would race to solve problems, and those that did not enjoy the topic would work with the group, get the work done, but it was more of a task to check off a list, but asking questions from time to time.

What I find most interesting after reading the article and thinking back to my elementary years, is the fact that after sixth grade, we entered into high school where we took our standardized test, then began our “track”, college prep, agricultural tech, or vocational tech.  Being in such a small school, you pretty much knew who was at the top of the class, and who was not.  Those that were higher achieving went into college prep, and further into advanced placement classes.  The average kids went college prep or a tech class, usually depending on if the family owned a farm or not, and those that would be low achieving went into the vocational tech. 

Overall I really wonder how our groups were decided in my classes. What, if any were the benefits that the teachers and administration saw in these groups?  Especially that after sixth grade there was no more focus on “group” learning and it was all individual work in the classrooms, outside we made our groups and studied, but that was usually more due to proximity of who you lived by, and if they were in your track. 



Pivovarova, M (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? (unpublished article) Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Indigenous Epistemology and Education

In the article Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights Teresa L. McCarty and guest editors focus on indigenous epistemologies and its role with educational systems, human rights and indigenous self-determination. The article first introduces a series of questions that helped to drive the research of the various authors involved as the scholars seem to redefine the indigenous research agenda within, outside, and for the fields of education and anthropology (McCarty, Bargoiakova, Gilmore, Lomawaima, & Romero, 2005). As the authors move through the article, there are different positions taken to look at native people, the oppression that they have encountered, and the lasting effects that are reminiscent today with the loss of language, culture, and community systems. The reading helps define indigenous people and relate their historical experiences to challenges that many still face today. It winds down by recognizing the efforts of research taking place today that is driving to revitalize indigenous epistemologies and reverse many of the negative experiences that have transpired.

In this paper, the researchers worked off prior material that found in previous journals and scholarly research that they could build upon. From my perspective, the author and co-authors were looking to continue the momentum in providing scholarly research with indigenous epistemology and education. The report presented readers with supporting data with statistics that highlighted the author’s position on how indigenous languages and people have been plagued over time. The readings also presented research that showed examples from various researchers who shared common ground in means of results to theirs studies conducted in this line of inquiry, but with different segments of people who were studied. In short, the different areas of research analyzed help to highlight a movement by various research projects that all support similar findings.

From my perspective, one of the main things that were discovered in this study is that there have been some recent success from scholars working in this line of inquiry. The research presented in this article provided excellent insight on indigenous epistemologies and the affect they can have education within different cultures and societies. The report also uncovered a common thread amongst various scholars who hold the same passion for reversing the trends that have negatively affected indigenous people. A positive component to this piece, the authors are very motivated that in time more scholarly research will be conducted in this field, more efforts will be made to reverse the cycle of subjugation, and that the articles and commentaries assembled here lead the way toward these transformations (McCarty, 2005).

The piece to this article that grabbed my attention most was the material focused on how indigenous languages have been driven to near extinction in some cases. I agree with the authors points that, the shift toward English represents a shift away from the indigenous (McCarty, 2005). As I read this part to the reading I immediately reflected on my own personal experience as a Latino growing up in the United States, and how I have been unsuccessful in mastering the Spanish language. The English language was the first language spoken in my home and my parents’ home growing up, although both my parents and grandparents speak Spanish. I recall while growing up asking my parents why I was not taught Spanish as a child and why they did not speak Spanish very often. I was given a very direct answer. My parents both attended catholic school in Arizona growing up. It was common practice in the past that students in this school were not allowed to speak Spanish. If they were caught doing so, they would be reprimanded immediately. An interesting fact is that all of my siblings and myself attended this same catholic school growing up, and none of us speaks Spanish fluently today. Ultimately I found an immediate connection to the authors and point of agreement as they described how society has driven indigenous people, their languages, along with many of their social and cultural practices underground over time.


McCarty, T. L., Bargoiakova, T., & Gilmore, P., Lomawaima, K. T., Romero, M. E. (2005). Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology & Education Quarterly36(1), 1-7.

“Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!” (Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”)


As I dive deeper into my first doctoral class, I hear Eliza Doolittle in the musical “My Fair Lady” singing the above.  All these made up words that don’t speak plainly – “processual” (Lave, p.158), “historicism” (Lave p. 159) and “positionality.”  It almost seems as though the writers are working to keep readers out rather than draw us in us.  I love to read yet this week’s readings have been torturous.  Pivovarova’s paper (2014) is a great original study about the effects of tracking high and low achieving students.  Reading it left me confused.  Rosaldo’s (1994) mini-ethnographic stories entertained, but some of his sentences are convoluted and absurd, e.g. “This chapter uses a series of examples to explore the consequences of thus understanding the factors that condition social analysis (page 169).”  Where’s the subject?  Where’s the verb?  I am confused.  If researchers want to make their writing and thoughts accessible to an average person, they need to write for the average person.  I’m so sick of words.

As McCarty writes in her editorial introduction to the special issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005), “…the shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous (p. 3).”  As researchers focus on English even when working with native peoples, the history, culture and a connection are lost.  In my current state of frustration, I could rewrite that sentence as “the shift toward academic writing represents a shift away from coherent language.”  Academicians are creating their own words and language that is inaccessible to those who aren’t in the circle.  It feels oppressive to me.  This must be how some community college students feel when they hear instructors mention “Blackboard” and “MEID” and “SIS.”  It’s a new vocabulary as well as new, never-performed-before actions – e.g.,“blog” and “submit electronically.”

“Show Me” is the name of the song referred to in the title of this blog.  Youth Participatory Action Research seems geared to do that.  Researchers “show” each other what is important and what they need/want to know.  Adult researchers show the youth how to use research tools while the youth show the adults what’s important to study and how to relate.  That is dialogue.  McCarty writes that she is looking for dialogue in the theme issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005).  However, if the writers all have doctoral degrees and if people with doctoral degrees make up less than 1% of the population (as Sue Henderson advised us last week), does that 1% isolate itself with a language not understood by most of the rest of the world?  I can see researchers wanting (and needing) to develop their own language; yet it seems antithetical to the idea of social justice when this language cannot be understood by 99% of the population.

Perhaps what I am experiencing is akin to the tracking that Pivovarova (2014) writes about.  Those of us who are “low-achievers” are put in class with the “high-achievers.”  We don’t bring down the high achievers too much (depending on the distribution), but we low-achievers can be brought up.  I feel I am benefitting from all this wordy reading and writing, but I am wary of becoming one of the oppressors.  I want to relate with my colleagues and students in an authentic way. Parker Palmer’s classic book, The Courage to Teach (1998) gently encourages the reader to be authentic.  To teach in dialogue with students.  Though I believe many of the authors we read are hoping to establish dialogue, with such convoluted writing, dialogue is a distant dream for this tyro doctoral student.   Words, words, words…(when I can relate) I love them.


Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156–171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1–7.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them ? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.




Examining What is Valued in Traditional Education

Quarterly, E. (2005). Editors ’ Introduction Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights, 36(1), 1–7.

The reading in question introduces a number of ideas regarding indigenous education in not only our country but across the world.  Most importantly I believe, the editor raises a number of points around the languages that are valued and taught around the world and how this globalized approach is causing marginalized cultures and languages to go extinct.  The most astounding fact is that 6000 of our world’s languages are now only spoken by less than 10& of the total worlds people.  Two things pop out to me in this statistic.  One, there are 6000 languages, wow!!  Two, I am surprised to see that even 10% of the world speaks these languages when I can think of maybe 15 that are spoken in the US in total.  I do however completely agree with the authors point that we need to raise awareness about these disappearing languages and do more to affirm their existence and encourage their proliferation.  It is, of course, good to have a means for people to speak a similar language to communicate but with advances in technology we can more than facilitate communication while still appreciating diverse cultures.  To lose one of those languages is, as the authors say, to lose a part of our history, a piece of culture, and  to neglect part of our collective human experience.

Withstanding my agreement of the authors general purpose, I would have a couple of question regarding indigenous education and culture.  First of all I am not sure that I completely understand or appreciate the definition of indigenous in the first place.  I am wondering if there are places that indigenous people do not currently exist and if there are areas where indigenous people are currently refugees away from their true home.  I also wonder how it is possible to respect all cultures while still carrying on their languages and customs.  I think that to have an outsider come and probe the culture of some indigenous people would be inherently disrespectful.  I think that to truly carry on the knowledge and customs of indigenous cultures they cannot be approached with an industrial mindset of simply preserve and protect but rather cherish and uphold.  How do we change the type of knowledge we value from that which is respected by the majority to that which is cherished by the community.

The reading directly ties to my own thoughts regarding culturally responsive teaching as well as blatant acts of cultural depravity at both my school/district and the state as a whole.  To the second point, our state has a law banning the language that a LARGE number of our students speak as their first language.  The law while written (at least on paper) in somewhat good intent is actually a blatant act of racism and prejudice against students who do not share a similar background of the ruling majority.  I watch in sadness as students lose their home language and pieces of their culture which harms in the present (cannot communicate with their own parents) and likely in the future.  To the first point we see classrooms in schools that are forced by their curriculum to study literature that has nothing to do with the lives of their students.  While students become assimilated into the status quo it becomes harder and harder for them to keep up as they make the choice to lose a part of themselves or be lost within the system.

The article is nothing else fires me up about the potential of culturally responsive teaching and reflective practices.  I think that as we modify our tools as educators we modify the system that so often assimilates or simply leaves students behind.  As educators we have a higher calling than maybe anyone as we lay the foundation for how future generations think and act which is the true mechanism of societal change.

Ethnographic Bias

“After Objectivism” is chapter 2 in Renato Rosaldo’s (1994) book entitled, “Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis.”  Rosaldo (1994) provides a thought-provoking look at the challenges associated with ethnography (i.e., the systematic study of peoples and cultures).  In particular, Rosaldo (1994) criticizes “classic” ethnography that describes events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at a distance (at least figuratively) from those being observed.  For some, classic ethnography, which was in vogue from about 1920-1970, became the one and only legitimate form for telling the literal truth about other cultures.

In the chapter, numerous examples of descriptions of people and cultures through the “objective” lens of classic ethnography are provided.  The examples have a sterile detached quality that may be perceived as credible and objective because they were written by well-educated western scholars.  Rosalado (1994) posits, however, that the examples are only one perspective.  Others might be less collegial and consider the classic ethnographic view myopic.  The author provides an interesting way to assess the adequacy of social descriptions with the question, “How valid would we find ethnographic discourse about others if it were used to describe ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994)?”  To illustrate this approach the author describes a typical Canadian breakfast scene using classic ethnographic terms.  In the description, the father is the “reigning patriarch, as if just in from the hunt” and “the women talk among themselves and designate one among them as toast maker.”  Throughout the meal, “the women and children, including the designated toast maker, perform the obligatory ritual praise song, saying, ‘These sure are great eggs, Dad.’”  As absurd as this sounds, would the people about whom classic ethnographers wrote have had a similar reaction to the description of their culture and them?  Because the description is written in English and includes sophisticated vocabulary is it more accurate or credible than others?

The broad effects of classic modes of composition typically were not explored at the time because they were assumed to be objective.  Rosaldo (1994) does not believe these perspectives should be rejected outright.  Instead, he recommends they be displaced and become one among a number of viable forms of social descriptions.  Specifically, the classic accounts should be recovered but no longer viewed as the sole truth about other cultures. Instead, classic descriptions should become one perspective among others (Rosaldo, 1994).  How social descriptions are read and understood depends not only on their linguistics but also their content and context.  Who is speaking to whom and about what?  Why are these people speaking and what are the circumstances (Rosaldo, 1994)?

In addition to his criticism of classic ethnography, Rosaldo (1994) provides a number of perspectives and suggestions for reducing individual bias when describing different cultures and peoples.  Personal narratives can add balance to impersonal descriptions to better represent other forms of life.  Another practical idea is to give the same consideration to criticisms from the individuals and groups studied as to criticisms of peers.  This is easier said than done but a noble goal, nonetheless.  Finally, the author takes one step further and suggests that, “we ethnographers should be open to asking not only how our descriptions of others would read if applied to ourselves but how we can learn from other people’s descriptions of ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994).”

The idea of learning from others, particularly in relationships where learning is understood to be one-way, is a powerful and important concept.  Transformational learning can happen when the one-way learning reverses direction.  This occurs when teachers learn from students, when masters learn from apprentices, when ethnographers learn about their own culture and themselves from those they are studying, and so on.

As participant observers in action research, we have a unique opportunity to learn from our community and develop personally and professionally.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (pp. 46–67, 168–195). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Virtual schools and the school tracking debate

The personalization of education may be possible and highly impactful for individual students, with effective and strategic leveraging of technology, paired with what we know about learning styles and the influences of the characteristics of the educational “setting.” At the heart of the important debate around school “tracking” is a question about how to provide best for each student.  Do the benefits of grouping students in classrooms by their ability outweigh drawbacks, for the students and for the school?  Pivovarova (2014) explores how the composition of a peer group in a classroom might affect student achievement. She defines school tracking as “ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups” (p. 5).


A student’s academic experience can be customized based upon their curricular and learning needs in a virtual institution.  What does online education mean for the conversation around tracking?  Does it offer an alternative that makes the issue moot?  Does it offer a solution to the detriment of “bad” peers by minimizing the peer experience, relative to a brick-and-mortar educational setting?  Does it mean that students miss out on the benefits of groupings that include “good” peers, or high achieving students?  Can online education provide an experience that excludes effects of “bad peers,” forefronts the presence of and interactions with “good peers,” and otherwise individualizes the learning experience to the benefit of each student?


Pivovarova discusses the complexities of how tracking may impact achievement for individual students.  She demonstrates that the composition of the peer group affects different types of students differently.  For example, while a high achieving student seems to be “immune” to the peer group (including any variation in the population that might occur as students enter and leave) (p. 19), low achieving students benefit from the presence of high achievers.  Furthermore, she warns that previous research has shown that tracking can enhance inequality of learning opportunities for low achievers and students who may already be disadvantaged socio-economically (p. 2 & 4).


(Proponents of tracking also espouse the potential for enhanced school efficiency.  Though most schools have scarce resources, and negotiating the economics of providing for the student population is a necessary priority of any school, this stance is justified by an argument comfortable with the objectification of the student body whose only relevant characteristics are their ability and the convenience with which their needs might be attended to.  Since it seems schools’ primary goals ought to revolve around supporting students’ learning – equitably, however diverse their needs may be – I leave the economics of tracking mostly to the side, for this post.)


Online education may offer an alternative to the classroom environment that facilitates a kind of instructional differentiation that equitably attends to the needs of each student.  The low achieving student or the “bad” peer is little able to disrupt the learning of others (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 7).  Activities can be constructed to coordinate the involvement of high achievers, e.g. in academic leadership roles such as tutoring, discussion board posts requiring the readership and critical commentary of the peer group, educational games, and socialization opportunities organized by the school or parent organization.


(This last idea calls forth another related question about informal interaction: does Pivovarova’s study translate into settings that are outside of the classroom but are within the school’s domain [e.g. field trip to the city art museum]?  Online or distance education literature is partially preoccupied by the concept of community, and how achievement, retention, and/or other observable or self-reported factors of the program is positively impacted (e.g. Harrell II, 2008; Jagannathan, Blair, 2013; Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009).  This post will not address this question – peer composition, non-class-related interaction, and achievement – but it seemed intriguing enough to make brief mention.)


Pivovarova’s study was specific to the physical classroom environment – would “good” peers similarly affect their group in a setting held together by technologies and not by face-to-face interaction or the structure of a classroom and the set routine of a school schedule?  The author puts forth an electoral analogy, that of the median voter (in this case, to discuss the median student and how he or she affects or is affected by the peer group’s composition) (p. 21).  In contemplating what Pivovarova’s study suggests about education more broadly, including if or how her findings translate into “nontraditional” settings, the analogy that resonates with me clearly, is one of nutrition.


Because big food industry and associated marketing firms have tried to find new and catchy angles to capture and retain consumers for their food products, and because of our society’s aversion to the complex and desire to reduce a thing to its simplest form, fragmenting it into its component parts, and because of our search for a “quick fix” to immense and accelerating health problems, a holistic understanding of nutrition is neglected.  To address diabetes, consumers are encouraged to switch to artificial sweeteners, to lose weight, they may want to try carbohydrate or fat blockers, or for a mineral or vitamin deficiency, a pill will right one’s nutritive imbalance.  What we’re missing when we pick and choose elements of nutrition and or the food system, extracting them from their context, are the feedback loops, tradeoffs, and interrelationships and their effects.


Like our bodies or our food systems, a classroom environment and a school are complex systems that cannot be understood by studying one decontextualized factor. Pivovarova’s work offers considerations about peer groups that are useful for constructing an educational program – including one delivered largely virtually – that supports a peer culture conducive to each student’s achievement.  The nutrition analogy is a reminder that such findings do not offer “plug and play” solutions, and that context matters.


Moreover – especially – peers matter.  Pivovarova’s study demonstrates that peers don’t just matter for their contribution to a “sense of community” (Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009), which may be important for student sense of belonging, but something about their presence seems to have a more direct impact on student achievement.  Whether it is because the teacher tailors instruction to engage the high achiever and the lower achieving student benefits, because the high achievers inspire or otherwise motivate other students, or for some other reason, those in online education should take note.


The 2014-2015 school year will offer an opportunity for me to conduct action research, at some level, in my workplace.  It will be the inaugural year a small online college preparatory school, emphasizing advisement, community and peer culture, and college readiness.  I will be in a position to observe, experiment with, and engage students in program evaluations that will inform program improvement efforts.  Pivovarova’s findings are cause to further interrogate the program model as it takes shape this summer, and to critically witness the peer-to-peer (or absence of class time peer interaction) effects on academic success.


Harrell II, I. L. (2008). Increasing the success of online students. Inquiry13(1), 36–44.

Jagannathan, U., & Blair, R. (2013). Engage the disengaged: Strategies for addressing the expectations of today’s online millennials. Distance Learning10(4), 1–7.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Sadera, William A.; Robertson, James; Song, Liyan; Midon, N. M. (2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2).

What do photographs really reflect?

Photographs stand as glimpses into our lives at different points in our journey. Chappell, Chappell and Margolis (2011) see pictures as “memories of seeing” (p. 56) and within an educational journey these pictures can reflect the “face” of the world today but also the ceremonies that many of us go through that shape our future. When I think about educational events captured in photographs, there are two “types” that come to mind for me: graduation and our class photographs.

From childhood, we are gathered every year for our class shot (or at least up to a point in elementary school and maybe junior high). Those pictures are a reflection not only of our own growth but can reflect the make up of a classroom (diversity, gender) but also be reflective of the times (styles, looks, etc). The experience is somewhat of a normative process: something that many (but not all) will have the opportunity to experience.  In that same vein, graduation serves as a transition point to the next stage of life for many young people. When I was growing up, I had two graduations – one from junior high, which signaled my transition to high school and one from high school that signaled my transition to college (or to becoming an adult as I saw it). When I look back at the pictures of these experiences, I think of what that signified to me as a growth opportunity and as an experience that both me as the learner and my family had all hoped for. I think we, as people, want the best for ourselves and our children. These educational experiences become tantamount to not only personal success but may even be considered as a success of the family.

Chappell et al (2011) related educational photographs to a play. In their terms, they indicated that the environment (school) may be the same similarly to how a play is the same but the changes in both of these are the people.  The article was rife with pictures from multiple eras which represented the changing times (racial diversity, gender diversity, etc.). Their notion is that the picture can tell a lot about the progression of our society and how the message of what we stand for could have changed as well. I like to think that we have become a more progressive society and that this is reflected in our societies but that would mean forgetting that there is still a lot of inequality in the world, not just around racial or gender dynamics but around sexuality and even in socioeconomic status and how that may influence who walks across the stage or moves beyond high school. I have worked in higher education for 10 years and I think back on student access – has everyone been given the opportunity to attend? Is it really access for all and if it’s not, are the pictures we take truly reflective of our society or just this segmented piece of it? Thinking through the pictures in the article, it also makes you wonder who are the ones capturing and, in turn, sharing/publicizing the pictures? The individual(s) holding that power are more likely to take it from what they see as relevant than what may actually be reflected in reality.

What will be most interesting for the future is how, in the age of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, our journey will be reflected and captured when each moment is often the cause for a “selfie” or some other picture. I think through recent graduation at ASU. I sat on the floor with my students and snapped pictures, posting them for share on Instagram. Will these pictures be characteristic of who we are as people and what we stood for or more just a reflection of our society and what we think the “others” will want to see? Will our ability to connect with people from anyone in the world who have access to this technology (again the key is access) influence how we look at the world and the pictures we share back? Hard to say but interesting to see as an articulated story for future generations.


Chappell, D. Chappell, S. & Margolis, E. (2011). School as ceremony and ritual: How photography illuminates performances of ideological transfer. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(1), 56­73.

The Physical is Political: An (Uneasy) Case for Disability Studies in the High School Curriculum

At the risk of taxing, annoying, or boring you, dear reader, I’m going to go to that well again. I’m going to talk about my arthritis (again). I’m going to write about arthritis (again) because, as Blackburn (2014) argues, “a writer is obliged, both personally and politically, to write about, and thus to name, that which others use to oppress us” (p. 54). In this discussion, I’d like to explore my identity as a person with arthritis and my identity as a teacher, as well as the efforts I’ve made to keep those identities somewhat separate. I also hope to explore the feasibility, implications, and emotional risk of bringing those identities together–that is, to be a teacher with arthritis teaching students about disability studies.

Now, I want to be careful and explicit here: I do not, generally, go around feeling oppressed. As an educated, white, middle-class woman, I benefit from my race and class privilege regularly. As I’ve declared elsewhere, I have an ambivalent relationship to the label “disabled” because of the erratic-but-progressive nature of my illness (rheumatoid arthritis). Nevertheless, I have paid my entry fee, whether I wear the badge or not. The abbreviated inventory, shared here only for the purposes of establishing my “crip cred”:

The little boy in Target who harangued his mother, at top volume, about me: “What is wrong with that lady’s legs what is wrong with that lady’s legs mommy mommy mommy what is wrong with that lady’s legs?”; the man at the bar who asked, “Why are you walking like a cripple? Are you a cripple?”; the car full of boys tearing through a stoplight as I limped across who hollered, “Gimp!”; the 7th-grade P.E. teacher who said, in front of the class, “It’s a shame your body is falling apart at such a young age” and later in the year accused me of making the whole thing up; any number of strangers whose choice of conversation-starter is “What is wrong with you?” There. That’s out of the way. Further references available upon request.

The above list should give you some sense of the ways in which people with disabilities are “dehumanized, that is, made less human by having their individuality, creativity, and humanity taken away, as when one is treated like a number or an object” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 43). And my list is relatively mild. I want to revisit that moment in Target for a moment because I was struck by how similar it was to Fritz Fanon’s attempt (as cited in Rosaldo, 1994) of the “social experiment of trying to ignore his skin color. When he envisions himself as a neutral figure in a public place, his reverie is interrupted by a white child who notices him” (p. 188). The “frightened” child calls for his mother and, as he cowers from Fanon, repeatedly yells “Look, a Negro!” (as cited in Rosaldo, 1994, p. 188).

Certainly some profound differences exist between Fanon’s anecdote, taking place as it did in the 1960s and transpiring between a black man and a white child, and my Target episode, which took place in 2004 between two (three, if you count the mother, who did nothing) white people. There was not the same power differential between me and the child who called me out as between Fanon and his tormentor. However, I would argue that the child so bothered by my legs, like other people (not just children) I’ve encountered, was motivated in good part by fear: fear of a nonstandard body with its scars, lurching gait, curled digits.  Like Fanon, my reverie was also interrupted. I thought I was buying a greeting card on my way home from work. In this moment and others, by daring to go about in a troubled body, I was jarringly yanked from the personal to the public, asked to answer for my body’s wrongness, to sate strangers’ curiosity, and to assuage others’ anxieties. Just as the child came to his experience with Fanon “not as a blank slate but already filled with stories that caused a fear of black people” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 188), people enter interactions with disabled people preloaded with assumptions, stereotypes, and fears.

As Nancy Mairs (1996) writes, “most non-disabled people I know are so driven by their own fears of damage and death that they dread contact, let alone interaction, with anyone touched by affliction of any kind” (p. 100). Fear, then, creates a chasm of perceived difference, a firm Othering of the disabled person. Mairs (1996) writes that “the people who seem most hostile to my presence are those most fearful of my fate. And since their fear keeps them emotionally distant from me, they are the ones least likely to learn that my life isn’t half so dismal as they assume” (p. 102). Interestingly, fear of disabled people doesn’t always present itself as cowering or apprehension. In some cases, nondisabled people attribute serenity, perseverance, or heroism to a disabled person, but the end result is the same: the disabled person is made of something else, cut from a different cloth, than the nondisabled person. Mairs (1996) writes that “admiration, masking a queasy pity and fear, serves as a distancing mechanism” (p. 32).

This distance allows nondisabled people to relegate disabled people (and their feelings, opinions, characteristics, quirks, flaws, and failings) “to an other, safely remote reality, [rather] than to risk identification of their own lives with a life that dismays and perhaps even disgusts them” (Mairs, 1996, p. 32). It’s tricky, because, like “flattering stereotypes,” this distancing sometimes appears respectful, complimentary. The saintly cripple with the power to teach you how to appreciate all you have is not so different from the trope of the “Magical Negro,” a “black character–usually depicted as wiser and spiritually deeper than the white protagonist–whose purpose in the plot [is] to help the protagonist get out of trouble, to help the protagonist realize his own faults and overcome them” (Okorafor-Mbachu, 2004, para. 1).

At the independent school where I teach 10th-grade English, our students explore and seek to understand the experiences of marginalized people: Across the curriculum, students and educators engage in candid and fruitful discussions of race and racism, class and classism, sex and sexism. In courses like Cultural Anthropology and Holocaust Studies, students learn about the ways people have used bad science to create and uphold divisions among people. Outside of the classroom proper, students participate in a well-attended GSA (gay-straight alliance), we always send a strong delegation of students to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), and we regularly hold UniTown, a 48-hour leadership and diversity retreat focused on diversity, tolerance, and social justice.

And yet, I would argue, disability studies has not found a real toehold in this context. I am arguing here that it should–it must–if for no other reason than that “what seems to be rudeness on the part of nondisabled people often arises from ignorance and fear  … and that the best way to relieve these is through education” (Mairs, 1996, p. 138). But the reasons to teach disability studies go well beyond cleaning up people’s manners. After all, we don’t teach people about racism just to make sure they don’t use the “n-word.”

I sometimes think that when we (and I don’t mean just my school) talk about diversity, we’re approaching it from this Crayola-box, United Colors of Benetton standpoint that emphasizes racial and religious diversity–and, to an increasing extent, gender, class and sexual diversity–but not diversity of ability. Consider, as a representative example, the mission of Anytown, a retreat experience for teenagers (on which Unitown is based): “to celebrate diversity and reduce bias, bigotry, and prejudice” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). The organizers promise that “delegates will confront issues regarding stereotypes, disabilities, gender, occupations, faith and religion, body types, sexual orientation, class and privilege” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). The website also includes an invitation to bring items such as “quinceanera dresses, native clothing and artifacts, menorahs, kepahs, pictures, music, quotations and readings” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). These items will be spotlighted on “‘Culture Night,’ when we share and appreciate our heritages with cultural singing, dancing, clothing, objects and customs” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). This description seems to entail view of diversity that doesn’t really, sincerely, include disability. I guess as artifacts I would bring the knee replacement components that were removed from my joints after failing and being re-replaced. As for songs, maybe “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (Knees and Toes).” In my culture, there is no dancing to speak of.

So yes, I think we should introduce disability to the curriculum much in the same way we have interwoven or featured race, gender, sexuality, and class as lenses through which we examine power. And, given the amount of creative freedom and autonomy I enjoy as the sole teacher/designer of the 10th grade English curriculum, it might seem like I am ideally positioned to do so. To some extent, I have tried. I have my students read Nancy Mairs’ essay “On Being a Cripple.” Rosaldo (1994) says that Karl Marx’s prose is “designed to grip and persuade a reader  . . . often flamboyant, at times dripping in sarcasm, and often drawn as caricature in order to bring home a political or analytical point” ( p. 191); I like Mairs’ writing for similar reasons.

Although I present this first-person essay to them alongside other readings intended to broaden their view of human experience and to diversify the set of narratives that are valued in the classroom  (a few examples are “Blue-Collar Brilliance,” “Saudis in Bikinis,” “Black Men and Public Space”), I feel sheepish about the Mairs essay. I feel exposed and vulnerable, worried they will sniff out how profoundly I identify with Mairs and think I’m foisting some personal agenda on them. Clearly, I agree that “neither the prophet nor the demagogue has any place in the classroom. . . . One should neither preach one’s religion nor impose one’s politics on a captive audience” (Rosaldo, 2004, p. 170). And in order to uphold that mandate, I must labor at least in part under the delusion that my teaching self is, or can be, separate from my real self. (How telling that as a teacher I am “Ms. Decker” but on the front page of my arthritis memoir manuscript that’s floating around, as well as on the fiction and nonfiction I’ve published, I’m “Andrea Avery.”) The faultiness of this bifurcated identity is revealed to me when I feel so acutely injured in reading my students’ responses to Mairs’ essay. I don’t have their work here in front of me, so I’m generalizing, but these are the kinds of things I’ve read:

  • She seems really angry. She should try to move on.
  • She shouldn’t use the word “cripple.” It’s offensive.
  • It’s great that she found someone to love her even though she can’t really be a good wife or mother. Her family seems really patient.
  • It’s great she hasn’t let her disability keep her from living a nearly normal life.

I read these things, and I feel my supposed teacher objectivity crumbling, and I think, “I am too close to this.” And so perhaps I don’t push back on some of their assumptions or stereotypes, or even their misreadings (for example, the principal point of Mairs’ essay is why she uses the word “cripple” in place of other words. Certainly the objective teacher in me could ding a kid for not getting that, right? That’s reading comprehension!) the way I do when I’m coaching them through essays of race, sexuality, or class. Well, what of gender identity and sexism, you might be asking. Do I feel sheepish when I coach my students through feminist texts? For some reason, no. I identify as, and am perceived as, a woman. My style of dress suggests (correctly) my political leftness. These things pave the way for me to wear my feminism outwardly. Perhaps because of the weight of years and the work of feminists who came before, I do not think of feminism as a personal hobby that I can indulge in my free time but that I mustn’t impose on my students. Rather, I believe I am failing my students (male and female) if I do not teach them to see how imbalanced our world still is, how much work is yet to be done. Patriarchy and rape culture are bad for everyone.

Disability studies, though, remains this passion that I pursue outside of my professional capacity, using my other, “real” name. I write about arthritis and issues of disability, trying to get this finished memoir into the hands of the right agent or editor, truly believing that “sharing significant and intimate parts of our histories with each other . . . is a personal act with with humanizing consequences” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 55). But I’m more comfortable sharing my history beyond and away from my local community. In my daydreams about getting that book published, one of the only clouds floats in when I worry about whether my students (and their parents, and my co-workers) will read my work and know the real me.

That sounds strange, even to me. No one would accuse me of being a circumspect, closely guarded, private person, even among my students. They know quite a lot about me, and it’s not like my arthritis itself is a secret. But disability–not my own, but disability writ large, disability as social study, this thing that is so central to my life and my identity, this thing to which I have committed hours of evening study and early-morning writing, this thing that I fervently believe has as much place in a curriculum as race, gender, or queer studies–I keep held apart. I give it even less airtime in my classroom than I do other issues of social justice and equality to which I have much less personal connection. It is on my own time that I delve into “reading, writing, thinking, talking, some might say perseverating, to untangle the knots. If possible, or, if not, to come to know them intimately so I understand where and why I stand among the intricate tangles” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 47) even as I push my students to examine and reveal their whole selves in their own writing.

The plot thickens further when I consider that the research project that glows with the most heat for me involves working with students with disabilities or learning differences to examine in what ways our school is meeting their particular needs and how we can do more. For this research project, I will need to reconcile (and, likely, share) my own identity in relation to the word “disabled.” To earn their trust as people on the margins, I will likely need to acknowledge and divulge the ways in which I’ve been on the margins.

Personal narratives and individual experiences and testimonies are crucial to disability studies, in both scholarly and nonscholarly writing. As Garland-Thomson (2013) explains, “the field emerged in the 1980s, part of a cluster of politicized identity-based interdisciplinary fields of study . . . that theorized as well as actualized greater inclusion and equality in the academy” (p.916). As such, first-person narratives of illness were brought to the forefront of medical writing after spending years “relegated literally to the margins: prefaces, introductions, afterwords, footnotes, and italicized or small-print case histories” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 60). Like scholars in other fields of study, the early pioneers of disability studies argued that personal narratives “often facilitate the social processes that have proven difficult even to perceive through distanced normalizing discourse” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 60). I’ve spent years reading memoirs and testimonies of illness and disability and crafting my own. The narratives of others, including Mairs, have done much to empower me and make me feel less alone.

But personal narratives have their limitations. As Rosaldo (1994) says, “standing current fashion on its head by substituting tales of specific cases for distanced normalizing discourse will not yield a solution to the vexed problem of representing other lives” (p. 62). The primacy of personal narratives should not “discard classic norms but  . . .  displace them so that they become only one among a number of viable forms of social description rather than the one and only mode of writing about” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 54) disability. And there is danger in over-individualizing experiences like racism, sexism, and ableism. To do so is to under-emphasize the systematic and institutional discrimination that serve to preserve the status quo.

And so, surprising even myself, I think some resolution of this tension for me will come when I move out of personal narratives of disability and spend more time examining the larger social context into which those narratives, including my own, fit. Garland-Thomson (2013) calls for us to think of disability studies as “a civil and human rights issue, a minority identity, a sociological formation, a historical community, a diversity group, and a category of critical analysis in culture and the arts” (p. 917). When I think of it that way, I feel more empowered to approach it the way I do feminism, as a power imbalance I am duty-bound to expose and explore with young people.

That is a call to action. What should my action be? As Blackburn (2014) reminds us, “action might look like a highly visible and audible march through city streets, but it may not. Action often happens at the personal and communal levels but has consequences at institutional and societal levels” (p. 55). Perhaps as a first step, I should make my (Andrea Avery) writing on disability more available in my classroom; maybe I should invite students to read my work while I’m reading theirs. I should make sure that I teach the Mairs essay as well as I teach any other essay. And, in addition refusing to shirk my own duty to teach disability, I should begin to seek out ways to lead my co-faculty to do the same. Jones (2011) provides me with a great starting point, and a potential model for a faculty activity I could lead, in her intervention work with teachers-in-training wherein she guided structured reflective writing assignments to increase their awareness of disability and “challenged [them] to rethink the politics of ability” (p. 219). After all, “teaching is as much a political endeavor as it is a profession. . . .  What we do and say in schools models for children how we expect them to interact in society” (Jones, 2011).


Blackburn, M.V. (2014). Humanizing research with LGBTQ youth through dialogic communication, consciousness raising, and action. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 43-56). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Frequently asked questions. (2014). In Anytown leadership camp. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from

Garland-Thomson, R. (2013). Disability studies: A field emerged. American Quarterly, 65(4), 915-926.

Jones, M. (2011). Awakening teachers strategies for deconstructing disability and constructing ability. Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research, 5, 218-229.

Mairs, N. (1996). Waist-high in the world: A life among the nondisabled. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Okorafor-Mbachu, N. (2004) Steven King’s super-duper magical negroes. Strange Horizons. Retrieved from

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Peer impact and anxiety in the classroom

Coming from a small town, there was always an interesting dynamic in our school classrooms. Most of my classrooms were small, maybe 20-25 people total, which made for both an intimate learning experience but also one that could be challenging if you not only were a high performer but also suffered from social anxiety. Most people would think an intimate classroom would be a great opportunity for students but for me I felt it was more of a challenge for a different reason. I did well in school, being for the most part a solid “A” student. On the social side, I was far more on the geek end of the spectrum than the popular end. Standing out in a classroom as someone who understood their Shakespeare or excelled in biology could make life difficult outside the classroom. It was for that reason that I often held back in the classroom – why stand out in the crowd when it resulted in being made fun of? By drawing as little attention to myself as possible, I felt I could slide through school with ease. I could do my homework and excel that way and avoid the social stigma of being a “dork”.

Pivovarova (2014) in a recent article discussed the impact of peers on learning and environment, whether mixing levels of achievement in the classroom had negative/positive impacts on those individuals (p. 2). Besides the fact that Pivovarova (2014) looked at 6th graders from Ontario, Canada where I’m from, her findings were interesting in the ways in which peers influenced each other for good or bad, for example, in how a student who was a low achiever may perform better surrounded by high performers and how a high performer was somewhat of an “independent learner” (p. 19) in the classroom. This idea of “low” or “high” performers to me took on a different meaning. Why was someone performing lower than another student? I was performing at a high level despite my terror of what that performance would result in outside the classroom but what else could be going on within the other students lives.

Reading this article and with influence from recent discussions in my Doctoral classes, I began to wonder what other issues could be creating low versus high performance. Maybe these “low” performers had challenges not linked to the classroom that were impacting their lives in a way that made it hard to focus on school (family dynamics, money, health). Would putting them in a classroom with a “high” performer really help? What if there was a learning challenge (A.D.D., language barrier) that created issues and that student wasn’t receiving the support they needed. What if just the label of being a “low” performer created a perception that they couldn’t achieve success and created a ceiling that prevented development? My school was also a predominantly white school in a predominantly white farming community in Canada. For those few students of color, I began to wonder what challenges they may have faced in a white institution in a predominantly white town – were they getting fair treatment and access to the same resources or were they being marginalized within the school?

Looking back it makes me wonder about all the challenges and what “low” and “high” performance could really mean when it’s not such a cut and dry term. I realized that none of these ideas had crossed my mind as a child as I was too preoccupied in my own world. As I move forward in my educational journey, I find myself begin to question beyond just the surface issues of a situation to understand what other layers may exist that are far more pressing than was apparent. I hope that the courses continue to influence me towards a better understanding of all the dynamics a situation may hold, whether it be similar to this article in a classroom setting or within my own research pursuits and I hope that this understanding provides the fairness needed to represent all the individuals that may be impacted by that research.


Pivovarova, M (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Indigenous Language and Culture Backdrop and Educational Revitalization Efforts

I was struck by the discussion regarding the power of indigenous languages in Teresa McCarty’s (2005) journal introduction entitled “Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights.” In the introductory article, McCarty (2005) explains that while indigenous populations may comprise a small percentage of current, world demographics, they do, however, disproportionally possess most of the world’s languages.  She demonstrates this point through the employment of statistics.  McCarty (2005) states that although, “indigenous peoples comprise 4 percent of the world’s population…they speak 4,000 to 5,000 of the world’s more than 6,000 languages” (McCarty, 2005, p. 2).

These languages are threatened by the legacy of colonized diaspora that negatively impact indigenous identities.  Diaspora jeopardizes knowledge and epistemologies that are directly connected that are autochthonous, or indigenous, to specific peoples and lands.  The core of these knowledges is understanding ways of life within particular locations and circumstances through.  These knowledges are orally transmitted to younger generations of indigenous peoples as a means of perpetuating traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world.  This traditional and orally linguistic transmission of cultural ways of knowing is violently disrupted by the linguistic genocide of indigenous peoples.  Therefore, as language and traditional knowledge is inextricably fused, discourse about indigenous self-determination and education cannot occur without active consideration and exploration of the both elements.

More specifically, McCarty (2005) argues, that the “shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous” (p. 3).  However, the ramifications of a monolingual and resulting monocultural educational system limit the scope of knowledge, epistemologies, and worldviews transmitted to younger generations.  As a result, indigenous linguistic and cultural educational movements have begun to reclaim and propagate traditional ways of knowledge through language in schools.  This effort is bolstered by the ideology that perceives and respects the cruxes of language and self-determination.

Therefore, not only should language revitalization efforts include grassroots initiatives, but also those at all levels of education because loss of indigenous languages and the subsequent knowledge continue to threaten indigenous students’ academic achievement.  This connection and the result it renders is that the educational inclusion of indigenous epistemologies “can lead to a different kind of schooling experience and a different kind of learner” (McCarty, 2005, p. 4).  Indigenous languages, McCarty (2005) contends, belong in the very classrooms that have historically and systematically oppressed their use and transmission, and therefore further marginalize indigenous populations.  However, by including indigenous languages and knowledge in education, these traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world can empower indigenous peoples and communities toward self-determination.

Indigenous language revitalization efforts in education are at the core of my research agenda, especially those implemented on reservations.  This article illuminated the interconnectedness of the concepts of language, knowledge, of the “power of place.” I completely agree with the argument that education should be the first step in initiating language revitalization efforts.  This is especially powerful due to the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples through the educational process.

However, as language is not extrinsic from other cultural aspects and ways of knowing, it should not be taught in isolation.  It is a means of transferring traditional, cultural knowledge.  Therefore, it should be taught as a tool through which cultural knowledge is transmitted.  Although there are many educational programs that attempt to instill linguistic and cultural knowledge, the one I most subscribe to is that of the mother-tongue immersion program.

The mother-tongue immersion program completely immerses children in the traditional, mother-tongue language throughout the entire of the school day in kindergarten.  The language is spoken by elders of the community as a means of exposing and encouraging students to use it, but also as a means of teaching traditional knowledge.  As the children progress throughout the grade-levels, the languages employed by the schools are 50% English and 50% mother-tongue.  The Maori have developed implemented this linguistic and cultural immersion program and have rendered positive results that have resulted in other, international schools to adopt similar programs (Reyhner, 2003).  The mother-tongue immersion program is theoretically supported by the information provided in McCarty’s article and is one that I would like to research further.

McCarty, T. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1–7.

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from

Using Emotions to Influence Change

Emotions drive people. When we are able to navigate them, they become the fuel for our ability to make change.

Thinking back to 1996, my high school graduation, I vividly remember the emotions that were going through my mind. I was excited and full of joy as I marched across that stage. I knew that in a few months, I would be going off to college. At the time, I didn’t anticipate the struggles and challenges I would have. I realized, very quickly, that I missed home, and I didn’t feel as though I fit in. I remember sitting on my bed and sobbing, wishing I could just quit and go home. I was close to throwing in the towel. I didn’t. Four years later, I had a college diploma and I was applying to graduate schools. I was able to manage my emotions to make choices that supported my goals in life. Where did I learn to do that?

Looking forward, in 2005, as a fifth grade teacher, I was challenged everyday by Jeremy. Jeremy was a Hispanic male from a low-income household. His father was in and out of jail and his mother was uninvolved. Jeremy didn’t like school. He never turned in his homework and he was often off task. Other kids didn’t like him due to his bullying tactics, mean mannerisms and his resentment towards life. Today, Jeremy is in jail for participating in a home invasion.

What happened? It saddens me to think about what I could’ve done differently to increase Jeremy’s chances of being successful. At the time, I did everything I thought I was suppose to…I taught him how to read, compute math equations, memorize the location of the fifty states, and various science concepts. Now, none of that really matters. His anger and bitterness ended up determining his life path. How does one harness their emotions so that they are used to make strategic and informative choices in life? When I think about Jeremy, why didn’t he use his anger about his father to fuel his desire to reach his own goals? I never taught him the skills to do this. Was that my job? If so, I didn’t know nor did I know how.

Many researchers would argue that teaching students social and emotional skills is a missing link in our schools. According to Bridgeland, Bruce, M., and Hariharan, (2013), social and emotional learning (SEL) “involves the processes of developing competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making” (p. 1). Studies have shown that SEL can have many positive effects on students including boosting academic performance, increasing student interest in learning, improving student behavior, reducing bullying and improving a school climate.

I think it is really telling that the authors of “Humanizing Research” emphasize the power of emotions.   From a researcher’s standpoint, we need to use our emotions to fuel our ability to inform change. The notion that “feelings circulate and shape our work” (Paris and Winn 2014, p. 10) illustrates the role that feelings play in influencing our actions and decisions. When we are faced with ideas and policies that challenge us, emotions motivate us to see and challenge norms (p.10).

It’s not always easy. When I think about all of the “Jeremys” out there, I want to respond with a sense of urgency to fix this problem. It upsets me and I have often let my feelings of hopelessness stifle my desire to move forward with finding solutions. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yangidentify with these struggles as they shared their experiences with immigration policy. They talked about how they maintained hope and perseverance despite the continuous political challenges that they faced. They shared, “throughout our four years of work we have not paid significant attention to these feelings, yet they persist and continue to shape our work” (Paris and Winn 2014, p. 5). Despite the long battle, they allowed their feelings and emotions to continue to fuel them.   Knowing that our emotions are powerful in influencing our decisions, I am motivated to act upon my convictions. The need for students to be taught social emotional skills is dire and without it, students, like Jeremy, forfeit their chances to live successful, impactful lives.



Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, (2013). The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Chicago: Author

Paris, D. & Winn, MT. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing Research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications



Do Only “Good” Peers Matter?

In this article, Pivovarova (2013) discussed and evaluated the school tracking system. Tracks are classrooms or programs targeted toward homogenous groups. As an economist, her perspective is interesting in that she is considered the financial cost of the trade off between providing an educational experience that is equal or efficient. Pivovarova (2013) states “school tracking is defined as ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups. The opponents of tracking argue that channeling students into different tracks increases the inequality of opportunity and aggravates future economic inequality. Proponents of tracking usually cite the increased efficiency when students are grouped by abilities in schools or classes” (pg. 4).

The article includes a thorough literature review and presentation of current models. I found it interesting that a mathematical formula was used to evaluate the data and try to assess the influence of students’ academic performance on one another. The Linear-in-means model of classroom interaction seems to be the common model used to assess peer learning. Pivovarova (2013) was analyzing data available through existing educational assessments and applying this model to determine the model’s applicability.   In the literature review, Pivovarova (2013) shared multiple research views and stated, “the overall consensus in recent literature on peer effects in education is clear – the data do not support the simple linear-in-means model. The evidence suggests that the structure and nature of peer effects in elementary and middle school are more complicated than the standard linear-in-means model implies” (pg. 7).

The researcher was questioning how peers in classrooms affect classroom learning and how do the students in the classroom complement and influence the learning environment. I had always thought of success in school being a function of ability and attitude. I have certainly always loved learning. However, my experience included tracks. I was tracked in gifted programs and had some fantastic educational experiences. I have always wondered what my other classmates did when we all left the room to participate in “gifted” activities. This was my peer, my community. The cost of delivering this type of unique experience for gifted students was the additional instructor and the expenses of the additional programming. When considering the cost of that, the school systems need to consider the cost of delivering a program that is targeting only one group. This would not be inline with an approach trying to provide a high quality experience to all students. There is a cost, according to Pivovarova’s (2013) findings. The costs are financial and beyond in the sense that students who are low achievers might not be receiving the best education if grouped in a certain way. Ultimately, the findings were that high achieving students added to the environment advanced the group even further.

I work with a group of high achieving students. I define them that way based upon a couple of measures. The first is the College Index (CI) score. This is a measure that is determined based upon a variety of typical high school related measures (SAT score, ACT score, class ranking, GPA). The average CI score of the students I work with is 126. The highest possible score is 144. (Interestingly, there are specific programs at ASU for students who have a score less than 100 and those who score at a high level are invited to other specific programs). The other measure I use to qualify my evaluation of the students is that our major has the most students than any other major in the Barrett Honors College (BHC). We have two groups of students in the major, those in BHC and those not in BHC. Pivovarova (2013) found that high ability students do well when grouped with other high ability students. However, the impact of lower ability students was not as clear.

As I read the article, I reflected on the students in this major and what the experience must be like as a “lower” achieving student. I’m not even certain how I would define that, except that I do perceive an imbalance between the two groups based on how they refer to one another. It definitely made me reflect on the programming we deliver and how we frame advising conversations with students.


Pivovarova, M. (2013). Should we track them or should we mix them? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.



Generational Language Gaps

In the article The Editor’s Introduction of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology and Human Rights McCarthy (2005) opens the hearts and minds of readers by asking three questions that focus on indigenous epistemologies, anthropology and human rights. Although all three questions the editor opened up the article with are engaging, the one that resonated with me was the first question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?” (McCarthy, 2005). The editors collaborated with other scholars to dig deeper into these questions throughout the article.

The editors assert, “Indigenous languages (like minority languages) are increasingly threatened by the forces of globalization-culture, economic, and political forces that work to standardize and homogenize, even as the stratify and marginalize (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). I felt a deep connection to this part of the article. Both my parents grew up speaking only Spanish in their homes and in their communities. However, when they started elementary school Spanish was not an accepted form of communication. My mom tells the story of how she ran home during recess on the first day of school because they told her, “No Spanish, English only.” She was frightened and knew her language and culture was not embraced in her new school community.

The editors remind us how many languages are spoken only by paternal and grandparental generations. This is true of my family. After my parents experienced difficulties in school due to being second language learners, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit. The article illustrates how language identifies people, “who we are, where we came from, and where we are going; our family, territory and culture” (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). Because the language stopped in my generation, I felt a disconnect with my grandparents and parents in relation to who we are, where we came from and where we are going because we did not speak the same language. As a child, I remember sitting with cousins at family gatherings listening to the adults speak in Spanish and tell stories of their childhood, which brought laughter and tears. I remember one time asking for them to tell me the story in English and they did. However, I didn’t find it funny, they said that it wasn’t the same in English because they couldn’t find the right “English words” to appropriately and fully share the story. McCarthy (2005) explains that shifting toward English represents shifting away from Indigenous (p. 3).

In the article, McCarthy (2005) describes four different attempts to incorporate linguistic and cultural content into elementary and high schools. One scholar discusses the importance of both curricular and structural changes in education. Scholar, Mary Hermes, advocates for “cultural incorporation through immersion teaching in the Native language to both strengthen endangered languages and propel the culture-based curriculum movement far beyond superficially adding fragmented pieces of cultural knowledge onto the existing structure” (McCarthy, 2005, p.3). I believe researching the impact of self-determination is worthwhile and positively contributes to the field of education.


McCarthy, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education–self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, (36)1, 1-7.


There’s no crying in research

Several years ago, while working as the assistant director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), I met with a student regarding a particular accessibility issue. This student was a male, African American, senior, who was a returning veteran, and had a hidden disability (psychiatric disability). The student had expressed some frustration regarding access to one of his classes, and that he was having challenges with one of his instructors. As I listened to his story, I felt it appropriate to try and remain as objective as possible, in order to best advise this student, and eventually the instructor. My goal was to be as neutral in the process as possible. However, as we discussed the particulars of his concerns, I sensed a real disconnect between myself and the student. Sensing that this disconnect was related to my being detached emotionally, I shifted to a more personal approach.

In an attempt to make the conversation more meaningful, I related a story that involved my brother. This story was similar to his own, as my brother, too, had a disability. I expressed the frustration that my brother had felt and experienced during a particular time in his educational pursuits, and the anger that resulted with our family. In doing so, I introduced an emotional and human element to this student’s experience, and could sense, almost immediately, a drastic shift in his trust of me as a participant in that experience.

As researchers, we are taught to be objective when doing observations. In doing so, we lessen the likelihood that our own experiences, feeling, opinions, and cultural identities bias the results of the study. In this week’s reading, author Renato Rosaldo (1993), argues that complete, detached objectivity distorts the true context of the work we are doing, and does not accurately reflect the places and people that we are observing.

In framing the argument, the author notes, “arguably, human feelings and human failings provide as much insight for social analysis as subjecting oneself to the “manly” ordeals of self-discipline that constitute science as a vocation. Why narrow one’s vision to a God’s-eye view from on high? Why not use a wider spectrum of less heroic, but equally insightful, analytical positions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.173)?

The author gave an example of ethnographer, Jean Briggs, who embedded herself in an Eskimo village as a way to study the people. In her book “Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family”, author Jean Briggs (1970), describes the experiences and the challenges of her own emotional journey. In her book, Briggs introspectively explores her own identity and emotional struggles, which impacted her ability to connect with the people in a meaningful way.

Rosaldo describes her experience by saying, “in conducting her field work, she did not try and elevate herself to the dignified heights of science as a vocation. Instead she used her own feelings, particularly depression, frustration, rage and humiliation,” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 176). The author goes on further to say that “although the choice was originally her own, Briggs found herself overwhelmed by an alien world. In response to emotional and physical deprivation, she sought consolation through food, and even went so far as to hoard eight sesame seeds in tin foil. The ethnographer was held prisoner, not by the Eskimos but by her determination to succeed in doing fieldwork under demanding conditions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.177).

While I may never experience the harsh conditions that Jean Briggs experienced among the Eskimo tribe, there is great wisdom in acknowledging the emotional introspection of that journey, and the impact it had on her ability to effectively connect with the very people she was observing. As I look ahead to my own action research, particularly in ensuring access, excellence, and impact through mentoring, I want to be mindful of that balance of my own emotions and attachment to the student participants, and frame my life experience in that process in a way that creates trust among those that I will be working with. Only through doing so, will I be able to truly represent an accurate reflection of the impact of my research.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Briggs, J. (1970). Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Revolutionary Change

This week’s readings seem to focus on how people are represented in research.  The study by Rodaldo he examines how in an effort to sound objective research “fails to grasp significant variations in the tone of cultural events.”(Rosaldo, 1993, p.50)  Descriptive language used to describe social activities can be distancing and even “dehumanizing” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 54).    Research needs to be put in terms used  in everyday life or by adhering to “the highly serious classic ethnographic idiom almost inevitably become parodic when used as self-description?” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 48)  Accuracy and interpretation of events observed may be improved by including personal accounts of the participants to close the distance in understanding.   This is an experience I witness in parents all too often as I review student’s Individual Education Plans (IEP).  The technical jargon that is contained in legal documents like the IEP is supposedly written in concise language that is specific to the child’s needs.  Furthermore, parents are given and even bigger legal document that outlines the rights and procedures of team members.  The result is, parents are not as tuned in to what the documents say as they are about conversations, in plain words, about how their student is performing. “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?”(McCarty, 2005,p.1)  The same questions educators ask about self determination for students with IEPs are very similar to the questions asked of indigenous people.  They both represent a small population that is caught in the demands of conformity.  The pathways they have to travel for equality in view of the rest of society are very different. Researchers and educators know that, short of a revolution, change is slow and the dominant culture demands conformity. “The coincidence of the change of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.158) I believe it goes back to nature’s battle for survival or self preservation.  People and civilizations have been making attempts to divide and conquer since history began.  The irony is that there is just as much to learn from the conquered people as the victors.  Now we notice “the underlying processes of cultural, economic, social, and political displacement that lead to language loss- what some scholars have labeled linguistic genocide” (McCarty, 2005,p.2) and human history with it.  The challenge will be to find a method of change that will find a way to preserve and seek cohabitation. The International Society for Culture & Activity Research (ISCAR) is working to create change with the question, “what is needed for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world?” (Lave, 2012, p.156) My inquiry engages the school and its local community in the struggle to make a difference by closing the gap through education and self-determination.   As business professionals, community leaders, and politicians reach out to form school partnerships they plant the seeds to inspire students to set goals for their education.  Change is slow and if one seed is planted as a result of my inquiry, it will be worth the struggle.  “Each of us has much to learn, but together we can help ourselves and one another to understand more adequately our own political situations and struggles and those of the people whose lives we study.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)   References: Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture and Activity, 19(2), 156171. McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education SelfDetermination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 17.   Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon

Educating the Educator

Analysis of Changing Practice

In summary; this article presents the theoretical frame work of research in an effort to “educate the educator”. The author suggests that as part of changing our activity in changing circumstances we need to consider the most politically critical sites of political change.

From this article I outlined three main points:

Main point I. We need to make familiar and recognizable our own everyday possibilities for revolutionary praxis and take them up in our research practices.

Main Point II. That we take seriously the understanding of research as craft, and both learning and changing identity as aspects of craftsmanship.

Main Point III. How can craft practice be constructed as learning, and learning as craft?

According to the author and several other scholars in research communities, we need to make familiar and recognizable our own everyday possibilities for revolutionary praxis and take them up in our research practices. The focal point is theory and practice of scholars and learning communities. The article seeks to examine some issues and questions for researchers and those concerned with lifelong learning. More specifically, The International Society for Cultural and Activity Research (ISCAR). ISCAR is a scientific association that aims at; developing multidisciplinary theoretical and empirical research on societal, cultural and historical dimensions of human practices. Also promoting mutual scientific communication and research cooperation among its members. The author urges ISCAR participants to reevaluate their research practices. ISCAR members and participants are blessed with the obligation of creating long-term theoretical and empirical research. Early on in the article the author made note of a noticeable shift in the direction that ISCAR research has taken over the last decade.

In evaluation of the article, I found that it was clear that the mission and vision behind the article is to encourage the researcher to form collaborative groups, and take part in political discussions. The author suggested taking part in demonstrations, and recognize struggles for change in our universities and communities more broadly, and to engage in critical analysis in order to change our own research (p.158). I recognized several key points and recurring themes such as research as our craft and craftsmanship. Several scholars referenced in the article discuss their approach to research and how to look, and what to look for. They offered a summary of the historical and political dimensions of our practices as researchers.

The article’s contribution to knowledge and its implications made me reflect on another article by author Mark Smith (2009). Smith referenced earlier work by Jean Lave and Etiene Wenger in communities of practice. In this article the authors discuss the idea that learning involves a deepening process of participation in a community of practice. Lave and Wenger (2009) suggest that organizational growth and development is hinged upon developing communities of practice which places a high value on working with groups.

In my opinion, I highly regard the theory of molding and shaping our research and research efforts by treating these research efforts as our craft and using innovation as our craftsmanship tool, much like the ISCAR participants did. I believe the understanding of research as craft, and both learning and changing identity as aspects of craftsmanshipwill make forrevolutionary praxis in our research practices.


Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity. Routledge 19 (2), 156-171.

Smith, M. (2003, 2009). The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved June 16th, 2014.

Tracking, Mixing – Actively?

In the paper, Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? (Pivovarova, 2014), the author discussed the effects of peers in a classroom setting. In very broad terms, in Pivovarova’s paper, students are classified as higher, average and lower achieving; the author even made mention of “bad” kids. In addition, there were multiple reasons explaining why this is practiced in schools around the world. I had a few revelations when reading this paper and couldn’t quite get them out of my head.

To begin, I recalled my own childhood when reading this paper. I remember from a very early age, that the “gifted” students were treated differently. They had better books, better teachers and seemed to obtain more help from the teachers. Some of the “bad” students would call these “gifted” students the “teacher’s pet” because they were always getting called on to answer a question or asked to help with special tasks. Looking back now I remember that it made me feel terrible. I would question why I was not asked to clean the erasers (it was cool back then) or to help grade papers. I was a good student but obviously I was not “gifted.” Sadly, I also recalled the students who were not so “good.” My heart hurts a little when I think about how they must have felt.

As in any group there are ranges in intelligence, economic status, culture and race (to name a few) and the groups at my primary school were not much different. The school district that I attended also tracked students and unfortunately everyone knew what track they were in based on which class they were placed. When I think about this now it makes me angry. I questioned: How can this be? Isn’t this a form of segregation and racism? Why did my parent’s allow this to happen? Why did anyone allow this to happen? Of course, some of my questions were answered in the paper as to a probable “why” a school would track but I still don’t like or agree with it.

Putting my childhood memories aside I also thought how my area of interest, active learning, could play a part in halting the practice of tracking students by achievement level. In one of my research blogs I discussed various ways that an instructor can incorporate active learning methods in a classroom, simply and at no cost. Some of these methods include the pause procedure, which means the instructor stops every 10-15 minutes and allows the students to check their notes with a peer. Additionally, another method of active learning is small group work.

Continuing, one of the student groups that Pivovarova analyzed were those that relocated from another school. “The potential reason for lower academic outcomes for movers is that events that make students move – family break- ups, unemployment or loss of parents – also negatively affect their academic achievement” (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 9). In relaying this quote I am hopeful that a potential instructor would correlate that by incorporating one of the active learning methods discussed above it would help a struggling student. These improvement in the student could be reflected in their personal feelings (feeling less isolated) and would encourage their classroom participation, which could possibly improve academic achievement.

In closing, I was particularly surprised how a study on tracking or mixing students in classrooms would have any connection to active learning – and stir up so many emotions for me! I am just scratching the surface on my action research and already feel the desire to learn more. I am excited about how I may be able to contribute solutions to significant issues that are occurring in the United States public educational system.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

To Track or Not to Track

To track or not to track, that is the question. All administrators grapple with this question because there are pros and cons to ability tracking students. Personally, I have experienced student placement based on ability tracking as well as placement based on a more heterogeneous approach but I have yet to decide which approach I prefer. Pivovarova’s 2014 article opened my eyes to the pros and cons of particular classroom designs and allowed me to begin formulating a better understanding of best practices for placing students in classroom.

During my first four years of teaching, I was asked to be involved in the student placement process for the middle school students. Our process for placing students was not a fine science but instead based on teacher observations such as, student behavior, gender, and grades. With these traits in mind, we attempted to evenly distribute the students into each homeroom with the intention of creating heterogeneous classrooms. This type of distribution seemed to be effective but I always had to wonder how the lower achieving and behavioral issue students were affecting my higher achieving students. I felt a sense of guilt every time I had to stop the class to handle a behavior or begin my lesson with foundational pieces that my higher achieving students already understood. Although I saw some negative aspects to this classroom design, I also was able to witness outstanding cooperative learning moments where higher achieving students would help instruct lower achieving students. I believe this was not only beneficial to the lower achieving students but it was also incredibly advantageous for the higher achieving students. With that being said, Pivovarova (2014) stated that both low and high students benefit from these exchanges and there is a “positive effect of diversity of abilities in the classroom supports the idea that students learn from each other not only from their teacher, and class interaction play an important role in learning and transmission of knowledge” (p. 24).

During my fifth year as a teacher, I was introduced to the concept of student achievement tracking. The middle school students were placed according to achievement on Arizona’s high-stakes test, AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards). All high-performing sixth through eighth graders were all placed in the same class, all middle achieving students were placed in another class, and all low-achieving students were placed in a class. The first thing I noticed upon walking into the classroom was the morale of the students; the high-achieving students were upbeat and motivated; the middle-achieving students lacked motivation and were complacent; and the low-achieving students had poor morale and continuously referred to their class as the “dumb class”. Pivovarova (2014) came to a similar conclusion; she stated “while grouping by ability seems to be beneficial for high-achieving students, there is no evidence to support the tracking model for all students” (p. 27). Although it was extraordinary to watch the higher-level students excel and work on more advanced assignments, I knew my lower students were academically stagnant.

By utilizing achievement tracking are we perpetuating the intellectual perceptions that the students already have? I believe so, because it was a daily struggle to get our middle and low achieving students to believe that they can achieve at high ability levels. Unfortunately, I watched as my middle-achieving students, who were capable of meeting our standards and excelling, simply gave up because they were not labeled as “high-level” students. Placing students in these levels, I believe will select an educational path that students will be confined to for the remainder of their academic careers. Is this fair? Is this the message we want to send to our kids?

I still do not have a definitive answer to the question: should we track our students? There are valid pros and cons to both sides of the argument and as a school administrator; I am left to make this challenging decision for my students. After reviewing Pivovarova’s 2014 article, I believe that it would be in my students’ best interest to remain in heterogeneous classes due to the moral obligation I have to do what is best for all students, not just a select few. All students deserve to have access to an excellent education.




Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College. Tempe: Arizona State University


Who tells the story? Who makes the change?

There exists a strange dichotomy in ethnographic research.  In order to accurately understand a culture or a people, the researcher needs to be an insider, but to be able to take a new critical perspective, the researcher needs to be an outsider.  My first blog post of this doctoral journey began with:

“Garcia (2013) posits that researchers’ own biographies “greatly influence their values, their research questions, and the knowledge they construct” (p. 41).  A researcher must have credibility (be an “insider”) to be trusted and effective with study participants (p. 43).  The sense of Garcia’s writing is that a researcher can’t really understand the plight of someone who is different and whose life experience is different” (Lippincott, 2014).

Now, a full four weeks later, I have read what seem to be mountains of writings.  I am sure that I will soon look back and realize these readings are just the foothills.  Through this reading, I have breathed in a wide variety of opinions about the role of a researcher.  Rosaldo (1993) makes his point in a humorous way, sharing his ethnographic version of breakfast at his in-laws home, where the doting father became the “reigning patriarch” (p. 47) and the daughters’ expressions of gratitude became the “obligatory ritual praise song” (p. 47).  Luckily for Rosaldo, his future in-laws took this as a humorous parody, which, like much humor, had a grain of truth.  Rosaldo (1993) makes the point that “human subjects have often reacted with bemused puzzlement over the ways they have been depicted in anthropological writings” (p. 49).  So, here we see that an insider can not have the same view of an event as an outsider, someone with a different vantage point.  Is the outsider needed to point out truths that an insider can not see?  Is the outsider needed to translate an intimate experience into a general truth for both outsiders and insiders to consider?

You may be thinking that a perceptive insider can fulfill this function as translator.  Kirkland (2014), a young black male researcher, identifies himself as a part of  the demographic of young black men.  He uses his study of literacy in young black men as an example of ethnography, “a process of paradox, of being near while being far away, of engaging participants and their situations close enough while still retaining the necessary distance to explain them” (p. 185).  Yet, I felt his discomfort with this dynamic also.  In a conversation with a small group of young black males regarding their creation of rap, they stress his otherness:  You “can’t feel my flow…you don’t hear me…you be reading stuff about rap, but that don’t make you a rapper…you don’t live in it like us” (p. 186).  Kirkland’s analysis of this exchange included “As a perceived outsider, I got signified on” (p. 188).  Even as Kirkland is holding his outsider-ness as his identity as a researcher, he uses the youth vernacular to show his insider-ness.

Beyond this perspective of who is to tell the story, is the question of who is to create change?  What will be done with the story?  This is where culture circles and participatory research come in.  In these strategies, the researcher teaches the researched group the techniques and methods so that they can speak and do for themselves.  Perhaps researchers should become teachers of research methods and mentors of the formerly-researched, but now researchers themselves.  Participants can develop critical life skills that help them “consider life’s challenges from multiple perspectives” (Souto-Manning, 2014, p. 218).  This fulfills the two aims of research:  to tell an honest story and to affect change.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013).  Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research to special education.  Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Kirkland, D. (2014). Why I Study Culture, and Why It Matters. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities (p. 179-200). Sage Publications, Inc.

Lippincott, D. (2014) Is Empathy Enough? [Web log]. Retrieved from

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press.

Souto-Manning, M. (2014). Critical for whom? Theoretical and Methodological dilemmas in Critical Approaches to Language Research. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities (p. 201-222). Sage Publications, Inc.

The Role of Emotions

“We were, we told ourselves, too close to the work” (Paris & Winn, 2014). I have told myself this many times in relation to my job. In my opinion, it is a hazard of being a teacher. It is difficult to find the balance between work and home. This probably has a great deal to do with why so many teachers burn out within the first five years. I don’t envision a researcher as having such problems. In the past I have typically thought of a researcher as one who is serious, precise, objective and disconnected. Prior to starting this program, I was trying to determine what I wanted to research. I had a difficult time because I felt I was overly passionate about the things I wanted to research, but on the other hand I did not want to research a subject that I was dispassionate about; I imagine that would become tedious. “We have not paid significant attention to these feelings, yet they persist and continue to shape our work” (Paris & Winn, 2014). When reading through research articles, it appears that the common approach to research is to be detached, in order to be objective.

In Renato Rosaldo’s book, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis, he discusses the difference “between the technical idiom of ethnography and the language of everyday life” (1994). Rosaldo gives multiple examples in his book of daily life being described in Ethnographic terms. Each time I feel as though the researcher in the example has no idea what they are talking about because all emotion has been taken out of play. It leaves the description sounding idiotic. One example Rosaldo gives is Horace Mann’s paper, “Nacirema”. I had read it in elementary school and I remember being a little disturbed and thinking Nacirema people were barbaric. When I found out it was actually about Americans I was shocked and thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard. It became a joke to speak in such a manner.

People are emotional; they have joy, grief, anger…etc. When emotion is taken out of the equation daily actions seem a little crazy. I understand that the purpose is to stay distanced, but people research with purpose. “I want to emphasis…research carried out by anyone is a political-historical process.(Lave, 2012) Regardless of whether one expects their research to have an impact, it does, in some aspect have an influence on society. As quoted by Lave, research is political. It goes back to knowing the community and how the research will impact them. Paris and Winn discuss how emotions are used to modify policies. “The fear of terrorist violence of ‘illegal aliens’ taking U.S. jobs, of prisoners using tax dollars…all help to justify expanding the punitive arm of the state” (Paris & Winn, 2014). My purpose in researching is to initiate change within my community. The keyword throughout these readings seems to be balance. One must be aware how their emotions, passions and desires affect them in order to keep bias from impacting the results of their research. However, it is our passions that drive us.  Additionally, remembering that the community you are studying is made up of people and that the purpose of the research is to create a better world for them. Once we lose sight of that, there is no point in continuing to research.


Lave, J. (2012). Changing practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156–171. doi:10.1080/10749039.2012.666317

Paris, D., & Winn, M. T. (2014). Humanizing Research (p. 277). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and truth: The remaking of social analysis (pp. 1–52). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.