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Praxis Post

kdiamant's picture

My placement is at a preschool literacy program for children whose families’ dominant language is Spanish. The majority, if not all of the children, are of Mexican descent.  On Monday, we spent a significant amount of our structured time singing and dancing. Many of the songs and rhymes played were children’s songs that are in English and are part of an English speaking culture—The Hokey Pokey, the alphabet song, Jack Be Nimble, etc. When the teacher, Ms. L, played London Bridges, she also sang a version of a similar song/game in Spanish. She also played and had them dance to the pop song, Happy, and some of the children started to add in their own dance moves. When Ms. L was particularly impressed by a boy’s dancing/energy, she made comments about how he was going to have a lot of girlfriends when he grew up. After many songs in English, the children sang “De Colores” (in Spanish). Then, the teacher told them, “Niños (boys) on that side, and  niñas (girls) on that side.” The two groups split up into lines of boys and girls. The boys were reminded to put their hands behind their backs, and the girls put their hand on their hips. The teacher then played The Mexican Hat Dance, and the children did a dance that they seemed to all know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to value and validate students and where they are coming from in the classroom, and make things relevant for them. In some ways, this seemed like a great example of that, and I think that was probably what Ms. L was trying to do. “Happy” is a pop song that the children were likely to recognize from outside of class, and they were able to bring in their own dance moves. They knew the words to “De Colores” and were able to sing along quite well—it was in their first language, and that language and culture was being validated as a legitimate part of the classroom both in this, the London Bridges in Spanish game, and in the Mexican Hat Dance—something that does not always happen in ELL literacy programs. At the same time, I do wonder where Ms. L’s concept of what is “Mexican” came from, and I think it is probably important to remember that it is partial. Why did she choose certain things to bring into the classroom, and what would the students would bring in as part of their culture if it were up to them?

Also, in trying to do anti-oppressive teaching and focus on valuing and validating a particular group that might be oppressed by mainstream ways of thinking, I think it can be easy to contribute to other oppressive ways of thinking that are present within that group. As we were talking about today during the panel, all groups, minority or otherwise, have the potential to participate in discourses that are oppressive. While I cannot make an overarching statement about the attitudes about gender in my students’ culture because I a) simply do not know enough about it and b) do not think that it would be fair or accurate to simplify that much, I have observed some things within my kids (conversations about what a family has to look like, a boy wearing a t-shirt that said “Sorry girls, I only date models”) that seem like they come from mainstream, oppressive conceptions about gender. Ms. L, in trying to praise the kids and make things culturally relevant to them, seemed like she was reinforcing these ideas. I guess I am wondering—where is the line here? What do you define as oppressive, and what not, and of who? How do you reinforce and value one way of thinking while not reinforcing the potentially oppressive views within that? 


jccohen's picture

tensions of doing this work


You raise hard questions about the contradictions within the effort to do 'anti-oppressive teaching,' and as with the kinds of dilemmas Kumashiro's work raises, these tensions both call for reflection and action and act as a powerful reminder that we'll never have 'the answer.'  On a more specific note, I wonder about raising some of these questions with the teacher and/or the students, e.g. asking the teacher the very question you're posing here about gender in the students' culture(s) and questions about that, and asking the children another version of this same question.  What do you think?