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.

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


“Barbershop” as an Entity of Cultural Wealth

Short video clip here:

(Source: Story, T. (Director). (2002). Barbershop [Motion Picture].

This weekend, the film Barbershop, starring rapper Ice Cube, was on television. One of my favorite movies, the film chronicles the everyday life of “Calvin”, played by Ice Cube, who has inherited his father’s barbershop. Not just your ordinary barbershop, a long-standing, well-known, “pillar of the community” barbershop opened by this father during the civil rights era. The cast is comprised of old and young men, loan sharks, criminals, congressmen, and other colorful characters that frequent the barbershop on a daily basis. Calvin, who has other aspirations of his own, is reluctant to keep the shop open, but is quickly schooled by “Eddie”, the senior barber on the staff, who reminds him of the history, purpose and value of the ‘shop, saying, “This is the barbershop! The place where a black man means something! Cornerstone of the neighborhood! Our own country club! I mean, can’t you see that? “Through this exchange, and other insights Calvin begins to understand that closing the shop would mean the demise of a major cultural institution in his predominately Black community (Story, 2002).

I saw a direct connection from this film to Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) article, Whose Culture has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth. While Barbershop is not about education inequity, the themes in the film have strong connection to cultural wealth in the Black community. Yosso (2005) uses Critical Race Theory in drawing attention to how minorities draw on the values, wisdom, and inspiration that are deeply rooted within their own cultural community. Yosso (2005) begins her sentiments by discussing the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1977), and his idea of cultural wealth to explain why minority students do not excel as frequently as White students. According to Bourdieu, students obtain capital through cultural means (i.e. language, education), economic means (i.e. finances, assets), or social means (i.e. “who you know”), and such capital is received from one’s formal education or through their family connection (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). However, Yosso (2005) takes issue with Bourdieu’s position which openly presents the White, middle-class culture as the standard by which to judge others cultural wealth and value.

In my own life as a Black girl, I was responsible for getting my younger sister and myself to and from school every day. I was to cook breakfast, put our clothes on, pack our backpacks, lock the door, catch the city bus to the school, deliver my sister to her school, and walk to my own school. Our mother worked two jobs, so light grocery shopping, cooking dinner, answering the telephone, bathing my sister, homework, and bedtime were left up to me as well. Basically, I could manage our home! However, these skills were not as valuable as those obtained by my White classmates who had cars to take them to and from school, and whose parents could provide them with technology to help them excel in school, which was expected in the school system at that time. Today, my seven-year-old daughter is often assigned online homework. Again, this supports Yosso’s (2005) statement that White-middle class culture is considered the normative, excluding many marginalized who families do not own a home computer, nor do they have access to the internet, which is clearly the expectation in our school systems.

Yosso (2005) goes on to explain that Communities of Color foster cultural wealth on different principles than White communities do. Aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, navigational, and resistant capital are building blocks that create a foundation for rich, cultural capital in minority communities. Interestingly, Barbershop shows several of these types of capital within the movie. Many of the patrons talk about their dream jobs, goals, and plans for their futures while getting their hair cut (Aspirational). Calvin often leans on his wife for advice and moral support, while being reminded of the historical value of the barbershop by others (Familial).  Congressmen and lawyers who patron the barbershop, as well as citizens step up to help keep the ‘shop open, and the staff employed when the city attempts to tear down the business for upgrading by persuading officials to keep it open (Social). Finally, the patrons often come to barbershop not only to get their hair cut, but they also come for a weekly dose of strength and support  in dealing with racial and social injustice issues within their jobs, schools, and community (Navigational and Resistance).

So, while Barbershop’s script is not based on education, it does show the paradigm of cultural wealth in the Black community. Furthermore, educational entities should take note on how valuable such cultural institutions are and partner with them to help marginalized students succeed. Yosso (2005) draws upon Gloria Anzaldua’s (1990) sentiments of “de-academizing” educational theory putting it to practical use by connecting educational institutions to the community. Schools should partner with local churches, beauty shops, barbershops, athletic coaches, and recreational centers within marginalized communities to re-structure the mainstream standard of cultural wealth in an effort to see these institutions as valuable and practical for people of color; a concept I deeply agree with. After school tutoring programs could be held at neighborhood places of worship, or perhaps, “real world” learning credit can be earned for students who have part-time jobs, or who work in a family business. Recognition of cultural wealth is essential for change to happen.


Anzaldua, G. (1990). Haciendo Caras/making face, making soul: creative and critical perspectives by women of color. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society, and culture. London: Sage.

Story, T. (Director). (2002). Barbershop [Motion Picture].

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

An Analysis of a Comparative Study of Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian Identities’ Impact on Educational Issues

Cheng, S. Y., & Jacob, W. J. (2008). American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations. Asia Pacific Education Review, 9(3), 233–247. doi:10.1007/BF03026713

When approaching an issue or challenge, it is of utmost importance that all perspectives be considered.  One such powerful perspective that may be rendered is through critically comparing and contrasting two seemingly similar groups or ideas.  The results highlight insightful binaries of similarities/dissimilarities and causes/effects.

This methodology of critically and qualitatively comparing two traditionally colonized and marginalized groups is especially beneficial in educational action research. The insights garnered through analysis of two groups can tease out commonalities and differences, but also an understanding of how and why.  One such study was conducted by Cheng and Jacob (2008) in their article American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations.

In the qualitative study performed by Cheng and Jacob (2008), standard comparative case study analysis was implemented to dissect the similarities and differences between a high school in Taipei, Taiwan, and a high school in Los Angeles, California in the United States.  The procedure of this case study was segmented into three stages: design stage, conducting stage, and analysis stage.  In the first stage, the researchers identified the research as an exploratory case study.  In this stage, twelve Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian students were selected.  The selected students were stratified by ethnicity, grade, and gender.  In the second stage, the researchers devised a survey comprised of identity, education experience, and career aspirations and conducted participant observations and in-depth interviews.  Most of the interviews lasted from 20-30 minutes, but a few talked for an hour about the topics covered in the survey.  During each interview, the researchers wrote field notes as well as recorded the interviews with a digital recorder.  Upon the completion of the interview, the interviews were transcribed and coded for cross analysis.  The third and final stage was the analysis of the data collected from both high schools (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

It is important to note that Cheng and Jacob (2008) integrated standpoint theory into their development and analysis of the research. Standpoint theory is borrowed from gender studies, a budding investigative field that highlights sociocultural and political systems of biases, oppression, and power. Standpoint theory calls the researchers to account for any bias they may possess throughout the research process that may influence the outcome of the study.

The qualitative comparative study revealed that there are many similar identity and educational issues surrounding Taiwanese Aboriginals and American Indians.  They both are disassociated with their identities due to sociocultural and political oppression and marginalization.  Most of the oppression and marginalization, in both cases, stems from a lack of exposure, engagement, and support in traditional language, cultural practices, and communities. Both groups experience educational challenges in the form of academic achievement that is associated with the disassociated identities.  However, the differences in how these results are rendered are highlighted.

The Taiwanese Aboriginals experience much stronger and blatant oppression than the American Indians.  The Taiwanese Aboriginal student participants reported that teachers and students consistently perpetuate ethnic stereotypes in school through their comments and trivialization of alcoholism and drug abuse. Although the government mandates traditional languages be offered weekly, it is the last language of four that the students are required to learn.  The students also do not want to learn or engage in traditional activities because there are few in the cities. These issues have resulted in academic underachievement (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

The American Indian student participants reported that they do not experience much racism or stereotyping due to Los Angeles being so diverse and multicultural.  They also stated that in school, they do not receive indigenous education or language courses, but they do not feel discriminated against.  However, they lamented that teachers were not knowledgeable about indigenous cultural practices and beliefs and did not integrate them into classroom lessons.  The students were able to engage in some traditional cultural practices such as powwows, even though they do not regularly visit their tribal communities on reservations.  The language loss is also the result of the students being raised by non-American Indian parents or, if their parents are American Indians, the parents not knowing the traditional languages.  These challenges have resulted in academic underachievement and high dropout rates (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

Although I have no personal or work experience with Taiwanese Aboriginals, I have lived and worked in the heart of the Navajo Nation for three years.  The results that were rendered in the study were exactly those that I had encountered on the reservation, with the exception of children being raised by non-American Indians.

I ventured out into the Navajo Nation as an undergraduate student-teacher from Indiana University.  It was through the Cultural Immersions Program that I was required to research, learn, and engage in meaningful discussions of Navajo culture and educational issues for an entire year before moving to the reservation.  Once on the reservation, I was overwhelmed but my conceptual knowledge of Navajo culture helped me connect and, through the generosity of those in the community, transform my knowledge into practice.  I was considered a staple in the community after just one year of teaching as the school district in which I taught always experienced high teacher turn-over.  When I asked the teachers why they were leaving, they always cited that they did not understand the students, the environment was too rural, or they did not feel welcomed.  I extended a few invitations to traditional cultural ceremonies and activities, whenever it was respectful to do so, to a few non-American Indian teachers only to be denied most of the time.

I was active in the community, tried to learn the language, and was very respectful of cultural beliefs and practices.  I not only saw these as opportunities to improve myself through broadening my worldview, but also as a means of helping my students connect to the material I was required to teach them. I often pushed myself with the question, “How can teachers make classroom lessons relevant to students’ cultures and lifestyles if they do not engage in them themselves?”  I was surprised when the school district wanted to highlight me as one of the few teachers who integrated cultural and lifestyle aspects into my classroom lessons.  What further surprised me was that I was the only non-American Indian who was trying to make my lessons culturally relevant for my students.  So, when reading the results of the study, I was not confounded when the American Indian students stated that their teachers were not knowledgeable or incorporating cultural relevancy into their classrooms.

Therefore, the question that is raised from the research results rendered is, “How does localized indigenous cultural teacher training impact academic achievement and teacher retention rates in American Indian communities?” Research concentrating on localized indigenous teacher training is relevant in the educational issues surrounding American Indian high school and higher education graduation rates.  If education is made more accessible through culture and relevancy, then the assumed result would be an increase of academic achievement.  Also, if the students are more responsive to classroom lessons, teachers would be less frustrated and over-whelmed, and be more likely to stay in the community.  Retaining teachers is crucial to the long-term academic success of American Indian students because it reinforces the much needed academic and personal support of students.  This research idea is just one more perspective and analysis that must be explored.  Thus, multiple means and perspectives of critically analyzing the cultural identities and educational issues surrounding indigenous peoples is pivotal to their academic success and ultimate self-determination.

Keeping Up the Good Fight: Reflections on Writing for a Highly-Specialized Audience

The website “Existential Comics” is one of my very favorites. It has a great nerdish sense of humor, and it gets at some of the more complicated informal components of why studying philosophy can be such a challenge (i.e. is it possible that Kant actually wanted someone to understand the Critique of Pure Reason? Why is symbolic logic such a pain in the neck? Why are there so few women represented in philosophy courses? What’s with all the beards?). In one of their best comics, a handful of philosophers are playing the game Pictionary and arguing the entire time. In one of the panels of the comic, Jeremy Bentham, one of the theorists responsible for the development of Utilitarian philosophy, leans over to Martin Heidegger and says “Oh look at that, you *can* communicate in a way that is comprehensible.” It doesn’t have the same chortle-inducing hilarity to it when writing it out in a blog post, but what really caught me about this missive is that it reminded me that it can be quite difficult to take on a reading for which you may not have been part of the authors’ intended audience.

Huh? Heidegger is known to be a bit challenging to understand.  Source

Huh? Heidegger is known to be a bit challenging to understand. Source:

Take the article on Flores v. Arizona published by Thomas et. al out of Arizona State University in the Policy Futures in Education Volume 12. The article is an interesting one for a number of reasons, but for the purposes of this entry, I’d like for the readers here to think about the audience for the article; let me give a brief summary. The authors are writing about a landmark case in education out of Arizona; the case (Flores v. Arizona) is centered on whether or not a public school is obliged – via U.S. Civil Rights law – to provide instruction that supports English Language Learners (ELL). There is a brief description of the demography and language characteristics of the state of Arizona, a detailed legislative and legal history of the lawsuit/case, a comprehensive description of the data methods and motivations, and orientation on the scholarly research that applies to the case, and as a bridge to the conclusion, a lengthy detailing of neo-liberalism, its challenges, shortfalls, and its morphology in U.S. politics.

The sections on demography and language policy are clear. The growth of the Latino/a population in Arizona is substantial and is projected to rise, and many of the children in these families will be ELLs, so there is a clear need for more resources and planning to ensure that language acquisition instruction is provided to the populations that need it.  Similarly, the history of the Flores v. Arizona case is straightforward and is replete with references to literature that supports the history of the case and the media attention it has received. The section on methodology comes as a mildly jarring turn: a discussion of the technical details of how research was conducted on the media attention on the case. There is a lengthy section here intended to orient the reader to the research literature, too, with a multitude of references.

Here’s where the fun really begins, though, in the sections on neo-liberalism. The writing is at once descriptive of the general political-economic philosophy of neo-liberalism and also the way it is intertwined in the developmental arc of U.S. politics in the last 30-40 years. There are sections describing the central problems of the neo-liberal state, the academics who developed the theory, and the characteristic markers of a neo-liberal state in the way its legislation and cultural posture foster the creation of a specific set of values (rather than serving as a moderator of citizens’ civil liberties).

The conclusion comes down to making a connection between neo-liberalism and the education-legislative footprint of Arizona as viewed through the lens of the Flores v. Arizona case. One comes away from the article with a sense that of what neo-liberalism is, what its flaws are, and how it’s connected to Arizona legislation. Also, the Flores v. Arizona case is used as a tool to demonstrate that neo-liberalism is a narrow window through which to view civil rights and education.

The connection here between the cartoon where Bentham gives Heidegger a hard time and the article is around finding an audience. While reading the article, I found myself wrinkling my brow, wondering why the authors continued to pepper the writing with the word “discursive” and undefined phrases like “appropriate education.” I kept finding myself wondering when the authors would say something along the lines of “we argue,” or “based on our research findings, we contend,” or some other clear marker of a formal argument being made. I read the article a second time, more slowly, making notes along the way to ensure I hadn’t missed something while looking for the argument.

What I realized is that I am approaching the article, and all of the readings for that matter, from a source of bias. I have a mental model, a framework of understanding academic literature, that requires me to be able to pull out a contestable thesis, and after thinking carefully about the article, I am left with the following possibilities: (1) the argument in the article is that the description of the demography, legislation, case history, and neo-liberalism is valid, or (2) that there should be non-neo-liberal ways of viewing civil rights cases such as Flores v. Arizona.

Neither one of those arguments is contestable, to my mind, and so I imagine that I’m missing some critical reflexivity, some sense of the community of practice in higher education research, and some general understanding of the audience of the article. Heidegger isn’t terribly accessible, but if you can be professionally socialized into the field of Continental philosophy, his work on defining what it is to “be” is fascinating, and is critical to the development of the field of existentialism. Similarly, I am reminded that the literature in the field of higher education will be a new journey, and one that will require me to develop a new set of analytical frameworks to appreciate and understand the efforts therein.

As for finding an audience, this article is a reminder that as I write, considering my audience will be critical to my success; as I conclude, I wonder if I’ve been able to hit the mark in that regard.  The notion that “access” is a multifaceted concept is, I hope, one that doesn’t require much qualification.  But as I process this piece of writing, especially in the context of the literature I’ve read recently on communities of practice, part of the “access” conversation, I would contend, includes the concept of making your arguments accessible as a scholar to those who would both follow in your footsteps and those who would use your work to influence policy.


Melinda Hollis Thomas, Dinny Risri Aletheiani, David Lee Carlson, Ann Dutton Ewbank (2014). ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona, Policy Futures in Education, 12(2), 242-261.

Dare to Inspire

As an undergraduate, in an education program, there is one question that is presented over and over again. “Why do you want to be a teacher?” In general, there are two answers to this question:  one, the person answering had a wonderful educational experience and wants to reproduce the same experience for others or, two, the person answering had a horrible educational experience and wants to create a better experience for future students. Details in the answers change, but the underlying idea stays the same. People become teachers because they want to do right by children. My answer is no different. I had some amazing teachers and I saw the impact they had on students’ lives. I wanted to affect that kind of change.

As I was sitting in a planning meeting for next school year, we were discussing data and how do we go about impacting our student achievement; in particular, our low and at risk students. The terms that came up over and over again were “making connections,” “real life problems” and “making learning meaningful.”

Essentially, we were brainstorming about how to inspire our students.  I couldn’t stop thinking of an article I read, Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. The article is actually discussing an approach to research which includes students, teachers, graduate students and professors. This in itself was exciting to think about, but what I kept coming back to is the impact that this experience would have on the students involved in the project.

The students are identifying problems within their community and actively participating in the research, working directly with adults who value their opinion and empower them to not only define the problem and find solutions, but to voice it. (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013) In Medicine Stories, Morales says that healing will start when a community starts to discuss the trauma or injustice that has affected them.  (Morales, 1998) The students involved in the Council of Youth Research have lived inequality in their education, but the students have now started to deal with how this inequality has affected them and they are becoming change makers. They are researching and assisting in the project, but consider the learning that is taking place in the Council.

The problems being discussed and researched are “real life” problems and they are problems that directly impact the students. “Students are expected to learn and use research methods in order to produce knowledge about their educational experience so that they can develop identities as critical agents who work to facilitate change in education.” (Bautista et al., 2013) Setting aside the skills the students are learning in research, writing, presenting, interviewing…etc., imagine the impact on how these students view themselves and what they are able to affect. Picture the kind of learning that would take place on a daily basis if we, as teachers, could make the concepts as personal to our students.

In an excerpt from the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies there is a discussion about the difference between how Western culture and the Native American culture approaches science. The author isn’t arguing that one is better over the other, it simply spells out the differences and he states that, “These two approaches can complement one another.”  He goes on to say that in order for science to have meaning for students, “that meaning must be inherent in both the content and presentation.” In other words, teachers must know their community and culture of students and present the information in a way that is relevant for the student. “The first step in motivating and enhancing learning of any sort is by encouraging involvement in the learning process.” (Denizin, Lincoln, & Tuhiwai Smith, 2008)

It is easy, as a teacher, to become caught up in the overload of responsibilities our position demands and sometimes we forget why we became teachers. We are not in a job where we go home and leave work at work. That is what makes our job amazing because we are directly impacting the life of a child. We get to inspire students to do and be their best, but in order to do so, it is imperative that we approach our students in a fashion that is culturally relevant for them. We have to ask our students what is important to them. We need to allow our students to identify the problems they see around them and to search out solutions. More importantly, what would happen if we empowered our students to speak out against injustices?  How many students would blossom just by the experience of having an adult value their opinion and work? What would our schools look like if we had mini councils of youth research happening in our classrooms? I bet the teachers would end up being just as inspired as the students.



Bautista, M. A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Techers College Record, 115(October 2013), 1–23.

Denizin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies: Chapter 24. Sage Publications Inc.

Morales, A. L. (1998). Medicine stories: History, culture and the politics of integrity (p. 135). Cambridge: South End Press.

All about context

Shernaz B. Garcia and Alba A. Ortiz’s (2013) article, “Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education,” is an inspirational read.  The authors propose a cogent argument for analyzing disabilities and difference through the lens of intersectionality.  Essentially, their position is that intersectionality-focused research allows for a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the complex, dynamic and multi-layered issues or forces that impact educational outcomes.  Noting that we still have not achieved educational equity in spite of over forty years of research and various efforts to improve policies and schools, Garcia and Ortiz suggest that an intersectionality approach is what is needed to finally produce desired change.

I wholeheartedly agree with Garcia and Ortiz.  Reducing human beings to a single identifier or variable is not an effective way to understand them.  Instead, one must consider individual characteristics in context.  Two students who are of the same race can be in drastically different situations with respect to education based on confounding factors such as family socioeconomic background, neighborhood of residence, and school of attendance.  Therefore, it is essential to examine the complete picture and not just one aspect when trying to address educational inequity or any other societal problem.

For me, the most powerful part of Garcia and Ortiz’s article is the notion that a shift in the focus of interventions is also necessary.  After citing some educational disparities and the disproportionate amount of students of color and English Language Learners in special education, they write on page 39:

“When such large numbers of students from an identifiable group (e.g., racial/ethnic, language) fail, it is imperative to shift the focus away from student interventions to interventions directed at schools, programs, and personnel ‘at risk’ of producing ‘pedagogically-induced’ learning disabilities (Cummins, 1986, p. 666).”

This is such a powerful statement because the phrase, “at risk,” is so frequently used to label groups of students who are less likely to be successful academically.  Researchers, educators, administrators, and policy-makers who ascribe such a negative label onto students render the students as the problem.   Rather that point fingers at the students, we should reflect upon the conditions in which these students are being (mis)educated and disadvantaged.

This article pertains to my own research because I am interested in the retention, satisfaction, and success of Arizona State University freshmen.  When I conduct my research, I can use the intersectionality framework to approach issues comprehensively and from multiple angles.  Furthermore, I can be sure to consider conditions that impact student success outcomes and not just students when I ponder possible interventions.

This article is also meaningful to me personally as someone who has been a diversity and social justice educator and someone who has experienced multiple forms of both privilege and oppression.  I can relate to how frustrating it can be for an individual with many salient identities to be reduced to just one.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I have also seen it done to many others.  It’s important to always keep in mind that we all have unique combinations of identities, traits, and circumstances that constitute who we are and affect how we live.  Doing so will not only make us better researchers; it will make us better people.


Garcia, S.B., and Oriz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

The wide world of Wordles: Discussion of “Participatory visualizations with Wordle”

Viegas, F.B., Wattenberg, M. & J. Feinberg (2009). “Participatory visualizations with Wordle.” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 15(6), 1137-1144.

In this article, Viegas et al. (2009) introduce “Wordles,” their distinctions among similar data visualizations, and methodology to discover certain characteristics of Wordle users and their wider community.

Wordles represent a popular form of tag clouds, a common data visualization generally used to represent word frequency in text, with more frequent words represented in bigger and less frequent in smaller font. However, there are some key differences between an average tag cloud and a Wordle, in both their calculation and final appearance. In a Wordle, text size and word frequency are represented linearly; that is, the size of a word increases the same amount for each time it appears. Often, tag clouds calculate word size by utilizing the square root instead. Additionally, the Wordle algorithm allows words to appear in any free space not occupied by text–for example, in the space of an “o” or rotated vertically along the side of an “l.” The authors note that these changes were made for aesthetic reasons; however, particularly regarding how text size is calculated, the side effect may be a more straightforward relationship between size and frequency.

The authors also speak to their expectations of the Wordle community as casual infovis and a participatory culture. Casual infovis refers to situations or communities where lay users depict information in a personally meaningful way. Participatory culture refers to the tenor of conversation between the generator of information (or Wordles) and their audience; this very commonly occurs on the Internet, in the form of website user feedback, fan fiction, or comment boards on news stories or blog posts, to name a few examples.

“Wordles in the wild”: Methods and results

Because Wordle does not collect demographic information for users, who can make and download a graphic without logging in or creating an account, Wordle has little data to describe their users beyond the Wordles they create. To learn more about the wider community of Wordle users, the authors use a dual approach: Research into “Wordles in the wild,” an Internet search of previously created graphics and how they have been used online; and a survey of current visitors to the Wordle site.

“Wordles in the wild” (pp. 1139) were initially identified through Google search. The authors examined the first 500 sites returned for “Wordle,” and used these “prominent” (pp. 1139) examples to guide more specific research. Through this process, the authors identified several major categories for both Wordle users and how Wordle graphics are used, the largest being “education.” While a rather ingenious way to collect context, in the face of little circumstantial data to understand how Wordles have been used, snowball research does yield very little control over both the completeness and quality of found data.

Wordle also placed a survey link on its homepage, asking users to provide feedback about themselves and their graphics. The survey was first piloted for two days, and following feedback and revisions reposted for one week; the authors do not note specifically what feedback was given, or how the survey changed. During the week it was live, the survey received about 4,300 responses, which (assuming one Wordle per user per day, with no user overlap) represents a response rate of about 11%; although the authors note a margin of error of about 1%, they also recognize that given difficulties controlling for demographic variables and self-selection bias, the results should only be viewed as “a general guide” (pp. 1140).

The authors do admit a significant selection bias in this data, among both “wild Wordles” and survey respondents; they do not delve deeply into demographic data, beyond sex, age and occupation.

Do Wordles even count as a data visualization?

Given the authors’ results, there is little question that Wordle users clearly represent a participatory culture. They outline several ways that users collaborate with not only their data, but also their audience. As one example of professional use: Journalists, particularly during the 2008 presidential election, used Wordle to illuminate trends from political text and speeches. There are also many examples of personal or “fun” uses given, particularly focusing upon Wordles as gifts–for baby showers, church groups, and so on.

The authors, however, do note that the categorization of the Wordle community as “casual infovis” does not clearly convey some of the Wordle community’s more interesting characteristics. For example, “casual” doesn’t quite express the personal connection many users expressed toward their Wordle text; over half indicated that had written it themselves. Also, not all users identify their graphics or the use thereof, analytical or otherwise, as personally meaningful.

Besides the characteristics of Wordle users, the strong focus upon creating Wordles rather than using them as an analytical tool demonstrates to the authors that Wordles are not being utilized as intended, or perhaps as expected. Particularly considering the large number of survey respondents who did not understand the significance of word size within a graphic, does this then disqualify Wordles from truly being data visualizations?

This may be true in the wider community of users–particularly when considering the Wordles created as Valentine’s Day cards for spouses, or as bridal gifts and birthday presents. Wordles as gifts, or Wordles created for fun seem commonly to not have an analytical context. However, I would argue that within education, Wordle is working as intended, plus some. Educators create Wordles of new vocabulary words or Shakespearan sonnets to illuminate classroom discussion; students likewise are asked to participate in creating new Wordle graphics as an assignment or classroom activity. Bandeen and Sawain (2012) outline several concrete applications for Wordles in class, including (broadly):

  • Understanding major concepts
  • Identifying and defining unfamiliar terms
  • Connecting current passages with previous readings
  • Pointing out unexpected words
  • Identifying missing words
  • Theorizing connections among words

which pull from all levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy. In addition to serving as an analytical tool to guide discussion, Wordles (or tag clouds in general) are used collaboratively to explore texts in unique or unusual ways not always apparent at first read. Whether students are creating or viewing Wordle graphics, and whether or not the graphics are used in strictly an “analytical” sense, they are actively engaging the material in a meaningful way–both as casual infovis and a participatory culture.


Bandeen, H.M. & Sawain, J.E. (2012). Encourage students to read through the use of data visualizations. College Teaching, 60, 38-39.

Critical Teacher Reflection – Teaching Who We are

What does one see when they look in the mirror and is what they see a true reflection? One of the most powerful quotes in the article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection” by Tyrone C. Howard (2003) for me is, “effective reflection of race within a diverse cultural context requires teachers to engage in one of the more difficult processes for all individuals – honest reflection and critique of their own thoughts and behaviors. Critical reflection requires one to seek deeper levels of self-knowledge, and to acknowledge how one’s own worldview can shape students’ conceptions of self” (Howard, p. 198). The reason why I find myself in agreement with this passage is because I equated this to Palmer’s statement, “we teach who we are” (p. 198, Howard 2003).

I was raised in a culturally diverse home. My father is Hispanic and my mother is Irish, with family from the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Both of my parents have strong accents and were raised in vastly different homes. My father was born in 1940 and was raised by an aunt and uncle. His mother had passed away soon after childbirth. My father did not have any siblings and no possessions of his own as he moved around a lot. He entered the military soon after turning 18. My mother was the youngest of seven children. Being from a large family she could not wait to leave her family home. My parents met while working at a factory in Northern Illinois. Back when they fell in love, it was still “taboo” to be in a mixed-race relationship. However, they made it work and are still happily married and in love to this day.

The phrase, “We teach who we are” hits home for me. I was fortunate enough to have my multi-cultural training begin in my home at a very early age. The reflective process questions posed in the article by (Howard, 2003) can result in a terrifying journey if one does not prepare for what they may uncover. I believe the sooner a person takes the time to self-reflect, the better impact they will have personally and in the classroom, either as a teacher or a student.

One of my son’s closest friends, Casey, is about to complete his first year as an elementary school teacher for the Chicago public school (CPS) system. Recently, Casey and I were discussing his first year as a teacher. Some of the challenges that he spoke about was that he was raised in a small farming community that was 98 percent Caucasian and two percent “other” as the school district’s student body. He said that while he is not racist in the slightest way, he felt unprepared for the menagerie of race, ethnicity and culture. Even though he student-taught in the CPS system, he felt that once he was the teacher responsible for his own students, the stakes became much higher and the ability to make the largest impact became increasingly elusive.

One suggestion that the author makes is to, “avoid reductive notions of culture” (p. 201). In a story that Casey related to me during our discussion was when he assumed that he could make an impact on a student just as simply as he could the next. In one lesson he planned to introduce a subject using a pop culture reference. He said that he just assumed that all of the students watched this particular TV show because it was “popular.” He soon realized that some of the students did not know what he was referring to. He felt terrible that his exercise to learn something, but to also to have fun, highlighted the differences in home lives, culture, etc.

The author’s statement, “critical teacher reflection is essential to culturally relevant pedagogy because it can ultimately measure teachers’ levels of concern and care for their students. A teacher’s willingness to ask tough questions about his or her own attitudes toward diverse students can reflect a true commitment that the individual has toward students’ academic success and emotional well-being (Howard, 2003, p. 199). Because of this statement, it is my belief that if pre-service teachers are exposed to the practice of self-reflection they may have a greater likelihood of developing personally and professionally in a way that will greatly benefit the student and themselves.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy : Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195–202.

The Impact on Higher Education: Is Creating a New Doctoral Degree Worth it?

After reading Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates: A Critique and a Proposal by Lee Shulman, Chris Golde, Andrea Conklin Bueschel and Kristen Garabedian (2006), I pondered if a Professional Practitioners Degree (PPD) is a step in the right direction as  I agree that having a distinction between a PhD in Education and a Practitioner’s degree is important and relevant to the times. However, after much thought, I would argue that it is more of a hindrance.

One challenge that the article failed to develop was the difficulties in creating a new degree. The article mentions that creating a new degree lets one start at “ground zero” thus being able to create the exact degree one would like (Shulman, 2006). This statement seems to ring true, however it does not acknowledge the complexities of creating a well respected degree. A new degree lacks history, proven effectiveness, and quantity in field examples. How could one presume that a new degree without any standing would gain more respect in the academic community than the current degree already in place? What then happens to people with an EdD? Are they expected to go back and get a second degree to gain get more academic respect? Who is then in charge of making sure that the new degree maintains its intended integrity? All of these questions are rather large and unlikely to have an answer until a degree is implemented. In saying this I believe that revamping the EdD is the route to go.

In the past several years, large, prestigious universities began revamping their EdD programs – University of Southern California, Harvard, University of Washington, Vanderbilt. From personal observation, when large, prestigious universities begin to make changes, other large, prestigious universities begin to make similar changes. Thus, in this case, creating a national spur of revamping and redefining the EdD. I believe this rings true for ASU as well. A couple years ago, when I first started looking into ASU’s EdD, there were two different tracks. One was demolished and the program was remodeled. Part of the remodel (rumor has it) was due to budget constraints and for redefining the difficulty and purpose of the EdD. I dont know if it was mere coincidence, or just timing, but none-the-less the EdD at ASU is being redefined even if just for growth purposes. This would seem to support the ideas that there is a national shift beginning to happen in regards to reinvigorating the EdD programs. With this shift, it would seem better to keep the EdD rather than establishing a PPD.


Shulman, L., Golde, C., Bueschel, A., & Garabedian, K. Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates: A Critique and a Proposal. Educational Researcher, 43, 25-32. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from the ASU Blackboard database.


Know Thyself

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

For the readings this week, there was a common theme between a couple of the pieces that really resonated with me, and probably because I see direct correlations with my field of study, which is education abroad.  That theme is identity.  Not only do I see a relationship to my field, but I find the theme of identity applicable to our course’s guiding question on access, excellence and impact. Let me explain…

In Garcia and Ortiz’s 2013 piece, Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education, their argument is that it is impractical to hope to draw conclusions or prescribe solutions when dealing with a disparate group of individuals; you must acknowledge that every individual is comprised of multiple identities which colors their experiences and how they perceive the world.  As they explain, “A master category like race/ethnicity fails to account for within-group diversity based on people’s multiple social identities. Concomitantly, the education system’s failure to account for within-group differences renders these sub-groups invisible, and increases the risk that some students with special needs are overlooked and may not receive services to which they are entitled” (p.36).  By choosing to examine a subset through the lens of just a single, superficial identity, such as race, we as educators, fail to acknowledge that what works for one member of that racial group might not actually be what is best for another member of that same racial group who also identifies with another subset.

When I think about this principle in my field, one example might be concerning the dearth of African-American participation in education abroad.  When we make sweeping generalizations that the reason for why this population is under-represented in education abroad is because of economic deterrents, we fail to account for other factors that might be contributing to their decision to pursue this opportunity.  Perhaps they also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and have reservations about navigating another culture with this identity because of difficulties living with this identity at home. Or perhaps their parents never had the opportunity to study or travel abroad and so they do not even have the background from which to ask the right questions and start the research to take part in this opportunity.  The possibilities are as infinite as there are unique identities.

Perhaps more interesting to me, in terms of drawing comparisons to my field, was the 2003 article by Howard, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.  In my current position, I lead our Student Orientation and Re-entry Team (SORT). The SORT team is responsible for organizing our students’ pre-departure orientation meetings before they depart for their programs abroad.  As recently as this past year, I had a quintessential light-bulb moment when I realized that we were going about preparing students for their short-term programs the wrong way.  We had been focusing on introducing students to their host culture when really, one cannot begin to understand another culture before one understands their own culture, and more specifically, their own identity.  In a similar fashion to Howard’s argument that teacher’s need to engage in critical reflection to understand the particular biases that they bring into the classroom environment, so to do our students who are going abroad need to understand who they are as a person and an American and how that will influence their perceptions and understandings of a host culture.

Therefore, identity is perhaps one of the central foundations of problems related to access, equity, and impact because it is identity which raises the questions of who has access, is there equality across all involved, and what is the impact for individuals?  In terms of education, identity seems as though it may forever be the guiding light to which educational leaders must continually return in order to solve the issues related to these areas.


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

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection.  Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.