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Swetha Educational Autobiography

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Table of Contents

  1. Kindergarten in Two Midwestern Towns
  2. Smiling and Being Conditioned to “White Suburbia”
  3. Culture Shock: From The Cornfields to The Garden State Parkway
  4. Magnet High School: Addressing and Not Addressing Our Differences
  5. Learning the Value of Family and Friends
  6. Prom Queen Goes to Women’s College?
  7. Seeing education from the other side

Chapter 3. Culture Shock: From The Cornfields to The Garden State Parkway

    Sometime during the seventh grade, it came as a complete shock to me that my dad had quit his job and was looking for a new one. He wanted me to leave behind the friends I had made over the past eight years and start all over? I was thirteen, for crying out loud! I threw my temper tantrum and had a hissy fit, but, at the end of the day, we were still moving. It might have been okay if we were only moving to Chicago or Wisconsin, but we were moving halfway across the country to New Jersey. Why New Jersey? Who even lives in New Jersey? Apparently my family did. I tearfully packed up my bags and said bye to everything I had gotten used to in Carmel, Indiana, like my friends, my house, my neighbors, and my teachers, and flew out to New Jersey on a hot July day. I occupied myself for the rest of the summer with spending hours on the phone talking to my friends from Indiana and escaping to my uncle’s house in New York--basically avoiding any contact with neighbors and kids my age. The day finally came when I could no longer escape; it was the first day of school at Terrill Middle School.

I was nervous, as anyone might expect, but I was torn between having my dad there to walk me to the bus stop and trying to appear independent as an eighth-grader on her first day of school in New Jersey. My dad won. It was a strange dynamic that I had entered. As an eighth-grader, I was one of the oldest in the school, it was my last year in middle school. However, I was also the shy, quiet new girl trying to make friends. I could not be that assertive, confident, jaded eighth-grader that I would have been before we moved. I was happy to make some friends on the first day, but it was nowhere near feeling like home. I was thrown off by the amount of diversity I saw compared to Indiana, and I was confused by the aggressive natures of so many of the students I met. At the time, I attributed this, and many other observations, to the fact that it was New Jersey. Since I was “the new girl,” the question of the year seemed to be, “Where did you move from?” My answer was always, “Indiana, right outside of Indianapolis.” However, it seemed a bit culturally insensitive when people would respond, “Wait, why don’t you have an Indian accent?” To this, I would reiterate the fact that Indiana is in the Midwest and that I was not talking about  the Indian subcontinent, despite the fact that my parents were both born in India and I identify as Indian-American. It became a sort of joke, and I tried to laugh it off, but I had spent eight years of my life as a minority in “White suburbia,” where I had not had problems with people being culturally insensitive, but was flattered by people being culturally inquisitive (see previous chapter). Coming to a more diverse region, I expected to have even fewer problems with cultural insensitivity. Needless to say, the students of Terrill Middle School did not leave a good first impression on me.

Another one of the qualms I had with eighth-grade was the gifted and talented program. All throughout elementary and middle school in Indiana, I had been placed in the gifted and talented program, and so I went through my education with roughly the same group of people and we developed as a team. At Terrill, I felt overqualified for my classes, and I was not put into the “Thinking is Basic”, or TIB, program for gifted and talented students because I was new and the administration had not filed the proper paperwork to see my academic achievement (aside from grades and standardized test scores) previously in middle school. This provided me with an interesting experience of sitting in classes where I sometimes overconfidently felt like I could be doing a better job teaching than the teacher was. However, through this lens as an “ungifted” student, I was able to see the power struggles the TIB program created, and the divide between the TIB and non-TIB students. It scared me a little to think that this was what I had been doing for the past eight years in Indiana.

Through Dewey’s lens, I can see my closed-mindedness throughout eighth-grade as the result of a negative experience moving from Indiana. Starting with my placement into a “gifted and talented” program in Indiana, I can see my experience as progressive in a sense, because of the access I had to the education that I was ready for. This “participation of the learner” is prevalent in Dewey’s ideas of forging a better education that sees good and bad in progressive and traditional education. Also in accordance with Dewey’s emphasis on experience and the continuity of experience, I think that going to a new school could have been treated more as an experience than “the end of the world,” as I treated it at the time.

The Oakes and Lipton article also describes some of my experiences through terms such as privilege and inequality. In one sense, I was at the mercy of white privilege during my schooling in Indiana, which affected my expectations of my schooling in New Jersey. My judgement was blurred by the privilege that I had, being unconsciously labeled as a “model minority.” I was not faced with cultural insensitivity, and I had the opportunity to advance my education. However, my placement in “gifted and talented” programs was a different sort of privilege that I did not understand until I was without it. Luckily for me, high school was just a year away, but I was soon to learn that it would present me with a new set of moral dilemmas.