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Friday, March 17, 2017

My exploration of banned and controversial books: The Amazing Bone by William Steig

Although I found it easy to defend In the Night Kitchen from those who see it as a threat to young children, I cannot find good reasons to defend The Amazing Bone by William Steig - and this one has won awards: " a 1976 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year and Outstanding Book of the Year, a 1977 Caldecott Honor Book, and a 1977 Boston Globe - Horn Book Awards Honor Book for Picture Books" (Barnes & Noble website).

This book is filled with a number of things that bothered me:

  1. Peal, the antagonist, finds a bone. I can get past that, but based on the rest of the book, it is a bit disturbing that this young pig shows no concern for a bone she finds in the woods. Where did it come from? Dead body? Maybe I am putting too much focus on this, as last week, a junior high student found a pile of bones from a dead body while walking to school. 
  2. Pearl gets robbed by masked bandits carrying both knives and guns. In on illustration, a gun is actually placed to Pearl's temple. That is disturbing for a young children's book. 
  3. Pearl is kidnapped by a fox who plans to take her home, cook her, and eat her. Again, this is nothing new in stories (Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel), but combined with the other elements of the story, this feels like far too much.

    I honestly do not know what to make of this story as a whole. I am 100% against banning books, but I would be cautious about this one with very young children. I will share this with my middle schoolers are part of a critical literacy lesson, but I cannot see reading it to a young child. Without the pictures, the story is still pretty harsh; with the images, I think it becomes gratuitous.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My exploration of banned and controversial books: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

While I was conducting some online research about children's books that address social issues, I ran across a few lists of banned children's books. That's was an immediate invitation for me to start reading each and every single one of them, and I was surprised to discover that I have already read a few that show up on many lists, including In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. 

My first reaction: Maurice Sendak has a banned book? The Little Bear author? My now 22-year-old son and I used to read those books and watch the television series on Nickelodeon. Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak? Oh, that one has controversy around it too.

I did not recall anything controversial about In the Night Kitchen, so I ran straight to my public library to check it out (and there are many copies available, not banned). According to many websites, I had missed the nudity of 3-year old Mickey (buttocks and genitals, the sexual innuendo of a free-flowing milk, and the phallic appearance of a large milk bottle. Well if that isn't an advertisement to go back and read it again, I don't know what is! 

So here is an example of Mickey's nudity:

This is a children's book, for goodness sake, and little kids like to be naked. If you have a little one who is not nude or half-nude right now, you have probably forced that child into clothes. I remember my son stripping down in our foyer every day immediately after arriving home from daycare. Every. Day. He also used to take his little naked body and watch himself dance in front of a full length mirror. It was funny. This is funny. Kids get to giggle because there is a naked boy in a book, and parents get to giggle because we recognize the inside joke. And as Americans, we really need to get over this prudish fear of nudity (my most humble opinion).

My guess is that Sendak recognized that kids enjoy being naked and created a character to which they could relate - particularly little boys. I am fighting a never ending battle of getting boys to read in middle school. Maybe if they had all read this book, they would still be reading now. Maybe if I share it with my seventh and eighth grade students, they might pick up another book.

Here are examples of the milk controversies:

Oh, people...if you are seeing something in that picture that is not there, that is completely on you. That's your mind. And that is disturbing! Like Where the Wild Things Are, this is the story of a little boy's adventures via his dreams. Into the kitchen. Where people make cake. And maybe he really likes cake. I know I do. 

If you have an issue with the nudity, do not read the book. That does not mean, however, that you are able to speak for others who wish to encourage creativity and imagination and curiosity and adventure in our children. And that, as always, is my most humble opinion. 

P.S. If you truly want to be rebellious, you can purchase the coloring book version for your kids. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Check this box: Issues with identity
A few weeks ago, two students came to me and asked, "Are we Hispanic as a race or Hispanic as an ethnicity?" My first thought was both, but then because these are two highly intelligent individuals, I was not sure. 

"What is this about?" I asked. 

In another class, the girls were filling out information for high school, and like most forms, they did not see a category for themselves. The teacher told them to check White, yet they were not comfortable selecting White; they do not identify as such.

So rather than provide misinformation, we ventured to my first place for research: Google


I have admit that this result added more to our confusion. Our eighth-grade history classes have been teaching lessons on not labeling others, and here the girls were being forced to select labels for themselves in another class, and labels with which they generally do not apply to themselves. 

The Hispanic population of my campus ranks number two. They are not included as part of the White population in our demographic studies. Yet in this case, they were. How many other students who identify as Hispanic and not as White are being subjected to labels with which they do not identify? Having grown up in an environment in which we were all white by skin color but identified by our ethnicity, I understood their dilemma: It was not until I moved to Texas and began teaching that I was seen as the "white lady" rather than the "Italian girl."

I am currently reading Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students by Gregory Michie for my graduate diversity class. In Chapter 5 "Look at Your Hands," Michie discusses how his Hispanic students also struggled with identity. The students who were new to American and spoke no English were referred to as being "too Mexican." Students of Mexican heritage who spoke English would avoid those who only spoke Spanish. Many showed little knowledge of or interest in knowing about Mexico.

 "The kids confusion about their ethnic identities seemed to stem, at least in part, from a clash of cultures they experienced between life at home and life at school" (80). Michie notes how, at least in 1999, when the first edition of his book was published, pop culture, history books, and school environments did not reflect the history of the students he was teaching. Almost twenty years later, I believe that has changed (or maybe it is because I live in Texas closer to Mexico than Michie's environment of Chicago). We still have issues with textbooks (this year we had a textbook rejected due to racist idealogy against Mexican-Americans), and I cannot say my campus reflects the ethnicity of any student population on my campus. It is not uncommon, however, for my Hispanic students to be listening to Tejano music on their phones when given the opportunity or for salsa dancing to take place at a school event. And in my AVID class, we talk a great deal about cultural awareness and identity. 

None of this reflection even address my Vietnamese or African or Middle Eastern students, and my campus has numerous students from each background. Many of my students moved to America at a young age or are the first generation born in America. All of these students are middle schoolers who are in the process of discovering and developing their identities, resolving issues of being Hispanic/Vietnamese/African/Middle Eastern and American, and at the same time, we are asking them to check boxes with limited choices that may not fit their personal definitions of self.

On the pleasure side of my reading, I recently ran across a passage in What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau that has provided me with some guidance on how to address the topic of check boxes with my students: 

Especially in today's political climate, I certainly have no answers to my own questions about how to answer why a Hispanic student must check a box that says White, but I can guide deeper conversation about exploring who we all are on the inside, who we think we are and who we see within. And that, in my always most humble of opinions, is the most important side of all.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My role as a student in blended learning

In addition to everything else I do, I decided to add yet another challenge: an online blended learning course. One of the first assignments was to read a chapter that explains blended learning. For being 43, I think my educational path has included more technology that most. 

When my daughter was born in 2001, I decided to get my masters degree. The University of Texas at Arlington was offering a degree plan that could be fully completed online. With a newborn, this was an ideal situation (except, in reflection, the horrific internet speeds of the time). My entire Masters of Education in Teaching (M.Ed.T) was earned based upon online discussions, assessments, and assignments. I had no face-to-face interaction with anyone, although I was having online interaction with a classmate in Japan. At the time, I thought this was one of the most amazing ways to learn, but now that I have engaged in blended learning, I have a different viewpoint.

I am currently enrolled in a masters cohort program through Texas Woman's University.  Two of the four classes I have taken have been blended learning courses, including the one in which I am currently enrolled. For my current class, we meet every two weeks (my summer class met every three to four) for face-to-face learning. During our off weeks, we have online discussions regarding our readings for class, allowing us to engage in much more than we can possibly cover in a three-hour class every two weeks. We also share real-life connections that we run across and respond to the work of one another.

There is a drawback to this class - for me. Considering how quickly my brain works, I have a lot to say. I am a heavy contributor to the discussion boards, and at times, I wish my classmates would add more. But I am realistic. We all have different lives and time available to us. It is not uncommon for me to be up reading and writing by 6 AM, but I certainly do not expect that of others.  

I am also currently participating in an online book study that is not blended learning. Here again, I wish there was more dialogue occurring. The administrator of this course set up expectations about how many posts and responses we need to add to the discussion. To some extent, I think that takes away from natural online dialogue, but I also see a need for it to ensure that those who signed up for this course contribute to it. 

I have had a chance to speak face-to-face to a few district colleagues who are enrolled in the book study course with me. There does seem to be some intimidation for those who are not as comfortable using technology, and for them, I think adding a face-to-face component would be beneficial. But as teachers, librarians, and instructional coaches, I know that trying to find time that works for everyone is not terribly easy. This particular course was designed to be "PD in your PJs." 

Having participated in fully face-to-face, fully online, and blended learning,  I find blended learning to be the most beneficial for my personal growth. I feel the added online component to the face-to-face class keeps me focused on the learning and challenges me to look at other viewpoints more frequently.

I am still trying to determine how to make this work with my own middle school students who see one another on a daily basis. For the next year, I am considering branching discussions across class periods to tie multiple classes and grade levels together. I need the downtime of summer vacation to plan this out.

For those of you out there using or engaging in blended learning, what are your thoughts about the positives and negatives? Have you been involved in anything that has brought about more success than you expected?