4 the World blog

Empowering collaborative communities

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Gender and Literacy: Using a Feminist Lens to Promote Multiple Literacies and Advance Teacher Expertise

In the last three decades, a call of alarm has sounded claiming a boy crisis in literacy education. PISA & NAEP scores show a gender gap in literacy across grade-levels and across countries. We see girls outperforming boys in reading tests study after study. However, mean test scores only tell us part of the story. There is more disparity within each gender than there is between the genders. There are more boys at the bottom of the test score distribution but there are also more boys in the top (Cole, 1997).

If we really want to know if there is a crisis in literacy education, then we need to look at more than test scores. Contemporary research has looked at economic and social outcomes based on gender. Fleming (2000) reported that wage gaps between men and women persist, poverty continues to disproportionately affect women and children, domestic and sexual assault leaves women as victims more often, and gender bias and stereotypes are rampant in and out of classrooms.

Although research has examined gender-related inequities in and out of school (notably Sadker, Sadker & Zittleman, 2009), less research explores the current school experiences of girls and the role that school plays in helping all gender identities disrupt inequitable systems. This NCTE symposium attempts to address that gap by exploring various aspects of literacy through a feminist theory lens. Feminist theory is dedicated to examining issues of equality and dismantling sexism as well as other forms of oppression.

Amy Vetter will begin our symposium with Exploring Girlhood: The Literacy Experiences of One Girl in a Young Writers’ Camp. Dr. Vetter’s study explores how Addison, a high school girl in a young writers’ camp outside of school constructed and enacted writer identities.

I will follow with Dialogism: Feminist Revision of Argumentative Writing Instruction, in which I explore how feminist pedagogy can inform the instruction of writing aligned to the ELA CCSS for 9th-12th.

The third presentation by Tara Anderson is Deconstructing Gender Binaries With YA Literature will describe the value of literature that goes beyond the “LG” in “LGBTQIA” and with specific strategies for guiding students through critical conversations about gender.

Our fourth presenter, Brooke Langston-Demott will discuss her study (Critical Literacy: Challenging Traditional Gender Positions) focused on instruction dedicated to examining gender issues through literature in a fifth grade class.

We will end by inviting you to enter the conversation and share what educators can do to change the current gender inequities that exist in and out of classrooms. Not able to come? Join our conversation on Twitter #FeministPedagogy

NCTE Convention    |          Nov. 21 @4:15     |               Room M100E


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Bullied: The LBGTQ School Experience

LGBTQ rainbow flag in shape of Belize mapSchools have too often kept silent while LBGTQ students were bullied by other students.  Murray (2011) describes how some public school policies that appear to be anti-bullying and protective of queer youth do not do as much as the policies should.  The policies may break the silence, but do not provide the training that teachers need to intervene nor do they require schools to report bullying.  Murray (2011) states that heterosexism (i.e., believing that heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation) is institutionalized through formal and informal educational policies that are biased against homosexual students.  An example is a zero tolerance for bullying policy.  A zero tolerance policy does not accept bullying but also does not accept homosexuality.  Due to messages such as this, youth have lost their lives.  This tragedy is the most critical manifestation of the reason why we need responsive and responsible education in the US, Belize, and around the world.

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Unconscious bias causes unintentional racism

Admitting that I am a racist is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it is a hard thing.  If I am honest with myself, I can admit that I have biases about my race and about people from different races than my own.  This does not mean I am a bigot.  I do not have hate in my heart, but I do have fear.  It is hard to admit this because I am biased against people that are biased. In other words, I have accepted the discourse that good people are not biased.  But the truth is we all have biases.

Unconscious bias causes unintentional racism and sexism.  When we bring our biases to the surface, we can check ourselves and make a change.  Here is an example.  A white woman is in an elevator.  A black man steps on the elevator and the doors close.  She tightens her grip on her purse and pulls it closer to her body.  She doesn’t even think about this at the time or later.  He does.  He noticed.  He exits the elevator on the next floor.

Same example after she reads this blog.  A white woman is in an elevator.  A black man steps on the elevator and the doors close.  She notices that she feels a little uncomfortable and realizes it is her bias. She makes the choice not to clutch her purse but to relax her grip.  He exits the elevator on the next floor.

Checking our biases is just a first step, but it is an important step.  Please, whether you agree with me or not, watch this documentary about bias, racism, and fear.  There are two white men in the video.  One claims that he is racist.  One claims that he is not racist.  Which of the two men do you think had not reflected on his own biases?  You’ll have to watch to see if you are correct.

The Color of Fear by Lee Mun Wah

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All stereotypes are wrong

I’m from Indiana.  There are currently 3 shows on TV where characters are from Indiana: The Middle, Parks and Rec, and the B in apartment 23.   The only other time I remember a prime-time character being from Indiana was Woody from Cheers.  It’s not surprising to me that stereotypes about people from Indiana being naive even ignorant exist, but that fact that all 3 of these shows perpetuate this stereotype is crazy.  Oprah lives in Indiana for goodness sakes.  (By the way, when I tell people that, they say, “She does?”).

Also, I feel like I have to prove myself more to people because I’m from rural Indiana.  Maybe I don’t really have to and it’s just a stereotype in my own head, but I expect people think that I don’t have worldly experience or an open mind.   Even a bigger deal is that kids internalize these stereotypes from the media.  A child may dream of a career in international development but decides there’s no point since he’s just a hick anyway.  This doesn’t just happen to people from Indiana of course.  Our children are constantly looking for how they fit into this world.  Don’t even get me started on the lack of positive African-American or Hispanic characters on prime-time shows.

The real shame is how stereotypes cause a person to put herself in a box.  The Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway describes how this exact thing happened to her as a kid.  She said she wanted to be a poet but the image in her head of a poet was a man with white hair, tweed jacket with patches of suede on the elbow, and a pipe.  She was able to break out of this box, but others may not.  Before you perpetuate a stereotype, think about the repercussions.  One tiny image or joke might seem insignificant, but each tiny brick builds a wall.  A wall that can trap a person.

Watch Conversation: Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.