Classroom Culture
Frieda Benun | February 23, 2011 | 7:45 pm | Your Culture(s) | 2 Comments

“Friends and Frenemies” touched on a point that has become a popular topic this week: social interaction in school.  I think one of the reasons that it has become an issue, and not just in our class but in the larger academic community, is because there has been a substantial increase of non-academic activity in educational settings.

As time goes on and successive generations become more emotionally aware (e.g. more self-help books, therapy sessions, political correctness, acknowledgment of others’ differences) there grows a greater and greater recognition that we, as a society, should focus our efforts not only on academic intelligence but also on emotional well-being.

I witnessed the demonstration of this awareness and the cultures it created in the two different high schools I attended. Although the student bodies of the high schools were almost identical in demographics, the schools’ dissimilar approaches led to a distinct culture in each school.

In the first high school I attended, which I will abbreviate as HY, there was definitely an attempt to make school seem more nurturing and less punishing. The administration split up the curriculum so that there were easily distinguishable types of classes. Biology may have been right after “Healthy Choices” class on the schedule, but everyone knew which one “mattered” and which one was “fake.” Biology was clearly important.  The class had quizzes, tests, midterms, and a final. Students were expected to take notes and study. And so they did. In Healthy Choices, however, the expectations were entire different.  Any form of examinations was unheard of. The goal of the class was to generate group discussions and work on projects that would promote a healthy lifestyle. The reality though, bore no resemblance to that vision. The class was perceived as a joke by the entire student body. The classroom culture was one of utter chaos. It was almost like a 45-minute stretch of pandemonium scheduled into the day. No matter how many punishments and lectures the HY administration doled out, all attempts to convince the students to take the class seriously ended in failure.

In the summer right before junior year of high school, my family moved to Brooklyn and I was forced to switch to a new school, which I shall name YF. In YF, things were run very differently. The school had a much more rigorous curriculum and aside from extra-curricular activities (which were sometimes just as intense,) there was very little opportunity for goofing off. In YF too, there was a class for healthy choices. But even the name that YF chose to call the class indicated a different approach. Instead of HY’s feel-good, happy-sounding “Healthy Choices,” YF simply and straightforwardly named their class “Health.” The no-nonsense title reflected the attitude that the school had towards the course. They equated Health with all of the other required classes, from Biology to Writing. The classroom culture, although a bit more lax, was by and large similar to that of the other classes. In Health, there were reports and quizzes interspersed with discussion and projects throughout the semester. The tests may not have been so challenging and the reports so demanding, but they ensured that students understood the nature of the class and learned something. Needless to say, I learned a lot more from Health at YF than I did from Healthy Choices at HY.

As the importance of students’ emotional well-being gains more and more attention, it is critical that educators and administrators do not lose sight of their objectives. In HY, not only were the goals of Healthy Choices not met, but in addition, students associated the class (and the issue as a whole) with disobedience and mayhem. In YF however, although the class was more demanding and even stressful at times, the more serious atmosphere enabled thoughts, ideas and information to flow more freely. Both schools recognized the significance of a health class. Yet the manner in which each one presented the class had a strong effect on the classroom culture. It is clear that schools must strive not only to identify the needs of their students, but also to address these needs in a way that enhances rather than disrupts classroom culture.

Protected: Stuyvesant High School Culture
Kaitlyn O'Hagan | February 23, 2011 | 3:49 pm | Your Culture(s) | Enter your password to view comments.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Friendships, Fights, and the Educational Process
December Lange | February 22, 2011 | 7:23 pm | Reflections, Your Culture(s) | 1 Comment

Looking back on my experiences through school, I have a very defined set of memories. For seven hours a day, I sat in a desk in a classroom listening, reading, and doing schoolwork. However, there is little room for any of that when I reflect on my educational experience. Not once have I ever tried to recall the exact nature of a word problem from second grade or the year I was assigned to research for several weeks during junior year. The knowledge has been absorbed, but not in a memorable way. Instead of specific memories of traditional education, my hippocampus was hard at work forming memories about the things that taught me most: fights and friendships.

Personally, I do not believe that you can have one without the other. You will always fight with your friends and you have to be friends with someone to legitimately fight because by fighting you are expressing that you care. I have had my fair share of friendships and fights and they have both been very influential in shaping my learning experiences.

Friends have played a large role in my educational process. They are the people that I looked to for help when schoolwork became overbearing or when extracurricular activities became too difficult to manage. In a school society, friends become a support system. They tutor and counsel. Without friendships, there would be little motivation for students to go to school. For example, if you ask my six-year-old cousin why he is excited for school, he is going to answer, “To see Ben and Ally” (his two best friends) instead of, “To learn how to write my name.” To him, if you took away Ben and Ally school would be pointless. Throughout my educational career, I have often felt the same way. It was the people that I got to see everyday that made me want to go to school. Friends made learning bearable. Friends made learning fun.

Of course, fights have also been integral learning tools. Fights teach young children how to communicate their frustrations on a primal level and how to ask for help when things get difficult. In middle school, I thought that I knew everything and that the fight was always the other person’s fault. During high school, I learned that I had been wrong in middle school. Fights during high school taught me empathy and how to see the other side of the situation. They also taught me how to compromise and how to apologize. Even in college, I have been able to learn through fights. My best friend, Nick, and I argue bi-weekly. We fight about politics, family, career decisions, gender roles, relationships, food and whether or not he is going to let me watch Grey’s Anatomy. Nick has been one of the best learning opportunities I have ever had because he teaches me one of the most important things in life: communication. Before our friendship (and fights), I had never been an effective communicator. Now, I am able to express my ideas to him in an appropriate manner. This has carried over into the classroom, as I have been able to be a more active participant in discussions. In addition to that, fights in college taught me not to get romantically involved with someone who lives in your building because elevator rides, regardless of the length, can be extremely awkward and uncomfortable when things go badly.

If a teacher were to tell me that I am “here to learn, not socialize”, I would be able to form a very strong response. I obviously disagree vehemently with that statement and because I have been able to develop my communication and conflict resolution skills through socialization, I would be able to explain that when used properly socializing is an important learning mechanism.

Protected: A lot like 1984!
Shelly Darden | February 21, 2011 | 7:30 pm | Your Culture(s) | Enter your password to view comments.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

“You’re here to learn not socialize” …
Moses Sutton | February 21, 2011 | 6:16 pm | Your Culture(s) | 7 Comments

…If only. I find that the student culture, the “culture of schoolchildren,” as well as the fights and friendships that influence the positive or negative experiences of schoolchildren, to be overvalued. I’m not saying that friendships and social experiences do not play a role in schooling. If I were I’d be markedly delusional, naïve, and socially unperceptive. Rather I find that the role of social interaction should be mitigated, marginal to curricula-based learning, and secondary to measurable educational standards and testing.

When you go to school you are there to learn, to absorb material that is unattainable elsewhere. The cultures that socialize an individual, from friendship to economic status to religion to media, are constantly webbed and interwoven into all experiences. There is no real need to foster such cultures while in school because they already interject and define all aspects of social interaction naturally. When such cultures – cultures that do not directly relate to or facilitate quantifiable educational stimuli – play a greater role, they cause a direct decline in the primary labeled areas of focus (whether it be in math, reading, science, social studies, religion, philosophy, etc.).

Take for example the kindergarten case from the mini-lecture. If the student body, at the age of five, is capable teach “kids to count or to read or to know their colors and shapes.” That is the point of school! It is the reason a child attends kindergarten. The social interactions that the teacher in that case emphasized, to the desertion of subject-based learning, occur automatically. It is exactly that attitude – one that imposes an imbalanced weight on social training, interaction, and discipline – which hinders growth. In the US, this attitude is most prevalent. The standards of old and the educational syllabi have been sidelined. Statistically, US children are behind in standard subject examination scores compared to other Western countries. School is primarily for learning not socializing. Students will socialize anyway, so focus on the task at hand.

Personally, beyond the scope of kindergarten, I find this to be a major issue in my current learning experience. It is in fact an issue I have with Macaulay Honors and the Music Conservatory at Brooklyn College. In Macaulay, seminars, class discussions, forced collaborations, and group activities are overly assigned. I understand the benefits of such interactions, as well as the goals intended, but the forced social interactions have often become obsessions. What happened to textbooks and lectures? I have found that my most productive and long lasting endeavors in Macaulay were when I was sitting in a classroom analyzing texts through lecture and traditional discussion, not through activities. The same goes for my music composition major. It has become all too frequent that forced interactions are imposed in order to familiarize students with social scenes, settings, and people. I often think – what about the music itself? In both cases, music and Macaulay, I don’t want to give the impression that they are bad programs, rather that regarding the topic of socializing versus learning, the latter is often abandoned in favor of the culture of human interaction.

Cultural Reflections
Joseph Ugoretz | February 13, 2010 | 12:01 am | Your Culture(s) | No comments

Lots of possibilities for reflections for this unit. I’d like you to take one of the themes from the mini-lectures (your choice which one) or from the reflections posted in the last unit (again, your choice) and explore it in more depth. Here are some suggestions (but of course you can go off the list):

  • How many cultures are you a part of? Name them and describe them.  How do they get communicated to you and how do you help shape them?
  • What do you do when you need to switch cultures? Is it always easy? How skilled are you in this switching, and how have you learned your skill?
  • What was the student culture (the “culture of schoolchildren”) when you were in school? How did the school administration (or faculty) react to this culture?
  • How can fights or friendships help learning? When a teacher says “you’re here to learn, not socialize,” do you have a response to that?
  • Compare a few significant social interactions in your life–especially if some of them are mediated by writing…especially writing on a screen.
  • What has your school “trained” you for?  What would be better?
  • What is school for, if not training?