Month: February 2014

Looking down and “thinking like a mountain”


Looking down from the mountains to an institution, it is amazing to see how things look different. The streets look miniscule; people look like little dots in the space, and the fog that scatters through the city provide the feeling of mystery, structure, and organized chaos that prevails in education. In a way, the feeling of ascension provides the walker with a sense of power not experimented before. Perhaps validating Foucault`s point, In knowing we control and in controlling we know. However, this linkage seems disconnected to the walker`s opinion without incorporating the Greek concept of metis.

According to Scott (1998), metis represents a wide array if practical skills and acquired intelligence in responding to a constantly changing natural and human environment(p.313).  The walker`s experiences reminds him of his early lessons of life as well as the constant new lessons obtain through his journey.

One of the most noticeable observations while looking from the top down was the difficulty of truly knowing what is really happening down there. Two opposite conversations where echoing to his surroundings.

The first conversation was the need to make data-driven decisions to make sure all students where given an equal opportunity to succeed. In this conversation, education was being linked as the redeemer to solving our social and economic problems (Sunderman, 2009).  This conversation backed with federal pressures promoted accountability, standardizing and constant assessments. Furthermore, this national phenomenon was not only being used in the field of education. In fact, several disciplines were promoting that the more we know the more efficient and effective we are able to make things. For example, self-tracking devices to measure ways to track ourselves to prevent blood pressure and other sickness (Singer,2011). In the field of advertising,measurements shopping patterns to decide customer advertising and customer choices(AlixPartners,2010). Albrecht and Vanderlippe (2002) take this concept to another level by suggesting that they reward you for having the means to spent, however, the price setting is also being set accordingly.

            Additionally, this process is also being used across the globe in order to provide identifiable information to the government. Individuals are being provided unique codes according to a scanning system that tracks civilian’s fingerprints and their unique iris (Beiser,2011).

The second conversation happening in the surrounding was an opposition to what was occurring. The resistance against the structure proposed the idea that simplification did not proposed the appropriate solutions due to the complexity of its subjects. Taubman (2009), voices his concern by suggesting that teachers should not be responsible for overcoming historically rooted disadvantages- inequalities, poverty, injustice and racist-of an individualist society. Instead proposed alternative methods that are beyond short-term solutions, which worsens the problem.

According to Berry (1981), we should concentrate in good solutions that accepts its given limits, solutions that accept the limitations of the discipline, solutions that solves more than one problem and does not make new ones, and concentrating in good solutions that always answer the question. Furthermore, Taubman (2009), voices his concern by suggesting that teachers should not be responsible for overcoming historically rooted disadvantages- inequalities, poverty, injustice and racist-of an individualist society.

Freire (1993), offers perhaps a more transformative solution where the states, the solution is not to “integrate “but to transform the structure so they can become “beings for themselves”(p. 74). His transformative solution reminds us that we people are not marginal to their environments instead it is a structured system that keep others oppressed( Freire 1993l; Bird Rose,2013). Anyon(1980), articulates this concept suggesting, “knowledge and skills leading to social power and reward are made available to advantaged social groups but are withheld from the working class, to whom a more “practical” curriculum is offered”(p.67).

Zembylas(2007), offers a different alternative suggesting  “ teachers and students make available to themselves the forces of pleasure and the powerful flows of desire, thereby turning themselves into subjects who subvert normalized representations and significations and find access to a radical self”(p.332). In the words of palmer parker,

“ Institutions are neither other than us nor alien to us: institutions are us.”

As the walker continues his journey, the walker is encouraged by the imagination of possibilities proposed from many walkers in the field. Bird Rose (2013), invite us to think, to think of possibilities in which people can live together. A place where we examine our own bias and realized a future of possibilities. Frisk and Larson (2011), suggest that educational systems require structures that promote the freedom to constantly learn and adapt, the ability to go beyond a checklist to comprehensive pedagogies that are responsive to the effective teaching and learning. Hartman and Darab (2012), shares opportunities where structural powers provides opportunities and the freedom to think. Furthermore, Freire (1993) suggest not only to think freely, but also to have a critical spirit.

Our own journey provides us abundant and significant examples of how structures, power, and knowledge can liberate or oppressed people. Our current systems dictate so much of what is being considered as knowledge and what is acceptable. However, the scholars mentioned invite us to see the world differently, to provide our own meaning, to be critical, to challenge a reactivate status quo that kept us from moving forward.


Emerging from the trenches

Education was not a new concept for him or his family. In fact, it was not really a choice but an expectation that was inculcated since early years. A paradox of doctrination filled with common assumptions and realities of what an educated being entitles. Some of the early experiences transports him back to his high school years where acculturalization and assimilation where seem are the big topics at that time. He quickly discovered that the structures created for new comers had the ultimate goal of keeping them in school,avoid teen pregnancy and graduation,but not necessarly being college ready.

He choose with resistance from the school system to rejected to participate in the  English as a Second Language program,since the students involved appeared to stay behind instead of advancing to the courses needed to enroll in college. Most students did not have the math, science and English skills needed to graduate. Interesting enough, many of them were US-born with foreign backgrounds. This phenomenon hold to be true at graduation,when out of 30 students with Latino background only two were accepted to four year universities.

Many of them had not desire to go to college,but some others that did, were not fully prepared to embrace a higher education journey. For the walker, it was not really a choice, it was his reality. In his homeland for example, education meant the conservation of an elite status while for others meant freedom. According to Freire(1993), “if the conscientização threatens to place the status quo in question, it thereby seems to constitute a threat to freedom itself”(p.36).

In other societies, this might not be important, however, as we explore the Colombian structures of power and the different views of the political, and social climate that the country holds, one might understand the role of education as a denunciation of oppressive systems that criticizes a system. Therefore, to the point of Foucault, knowledge and power cannot be separated, in fact, the relationship reinforce one another (p.224).

As the walker emerges from an environmental quandary, the walker quickly discovers that the field of education had many similar characteristics as experienced before.  A system full of opportunities and constrains that prevented him from freely walking once again. At this point, the walker`s own experiences provided a new layer of awareness not experimented before. He had an above average formal education trajectory that allowed to him critically examined what was happening in his surroundings. 

During his time at the institution, he earned the respect and recognition from colleagues and students, for being responsive to the needs of cultural diverse students, for doing things differently, and for speaking up when no one would. He quickly discovered, that regardless of the tools he had, he was not going anywhere. In fact, he was submerging back to a repressive system that had other strategies in mind.  Feelings of doubt, fear and uncertainty governed his mind. He felt silently protesting, but regardless of what he did, his voice was not strong or loud enough.  At this point, he knew that service to the institution was culminating, and following Hirschman`s advice, he voice his courage through the following words:

            “While the journey of life takes us to many good and not so good situations, I am always very appreciative of the journey to get to the final destination. This journey involves working hard; taking risk, being truthful to yourself and making your voice heard because what you have to say to the world “DOES MATTER”.

My life as an immigrant child, with limited English Language has been a true example that the journey is for everyone. Yes, there are some people that have advantage and privilege over other, but in the end your “ACTIONS speaks LOUDER than WORDS”. Through this amazing journey I have met some extraordinary people that have contributed towards my growth and development as a student/friend and scholar.  My gratitude to everyone that believes in my work and especially to those that work daily with unhidden agendas “doing the right thing even when NO ONE is watching”. This is called CARACTER; Let me remind you how important that is. To conclude, I am not saying “Good Bye”, it is a “See you Later”.(Ramirez,2013).

The experience of departing was a sweet and sour experience, in one end the imagination of possibilities is exciting, but at the same time the emotions of leaving your comfortable environment is difficult at times. It is much like the process of institutional change where you have a complexity of factors and forces involved. Einser (2002), confirms this complexity by suggesting, “experiencing the environment is a process that is shaped by culture, influenced by language, impacted by beliefs, affected by values, and moderated by the distinctive features of that part of ourselves we sometime describe as our individuality”(p.1).

In the process of experiencing his environment while being truthful to his own needs of understanding the complexity of identity and the implications that this have in education provided him with opportunities to explore those concepts in the field of public education.


The Journey

  As I walk through the Journey of life, it is important to remember those moments that have imprinted themselves in my body. Perhaps one of those moments can be recaptured with the scarfs that causes when a young child with his family are asked to leave the country as refugees. Everything they ever had, knew and experience quickly evaporated as air in a foggy day. That feeling of uncertainty, pain, and hope quickly emerged to provide them with a new identity, immigrants.

            As immigrants, they walk through the fields of language, differences and despair. However, they never lost sight that their new identity would surround around itself in the grounds education.

            Education, a profession for the ladies, exclaims the machista society. My first-born needs to be a businessman. As the first-born, you are given an identity, a societal role, and a docile body. With that body, you create and recreate a new reality that provides a meaning to you and yours. But, in order to simplify and standardize the process and provide accountability an emphasis on carrying the name of the family last name is stressed (Scott, 1998,p.67).

            Stress is one of the most visible characteristics of the walker. Perhaps his face does not show it, but his body does constantly reminds him of his mortality through his journey. A journey that takes him to many places and as he walks little drops fall in the ground reminding as remembrance of his own identity.

            His identity quite complex may I add, takes him to a series of situations where his immigrant identity is observed and learned. One of those experiences takes him in a journey of business, banking and finance, perhaps an obvious choice knowing the constraints of an imposed normalization.  Foucault (1995) argues that power is more than being repressive, he adds, “In fact, power produces; it produces a reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth”(p.194).

            During his journey in the business world, the walker learned about control and being control. In his supervisory role he was responsible for five employees in retail banking. By design, retail banking deals with customers, numbers and money all day. Protecting the customer and their assets makes a great motto that leads to intentional control.  This environment of constant panoptic observation-video cameras in every station, auditors-in-residence, branch manager remote control, internal controls of the computer “computer ghost”, reminded the workers daily of reality of being in constant surveillance.

            Constant surveillance provided a sense of protection to many, while providing an uncomfortable feeling of being of watched at all times. However, after few years in this environment and interacting with the observers while being observed, provides a new reality that eventually makes this reality a natural truth to the individuals.  In the words of Taumban (2009), the system of surveillance became accepted and invited.

            The walker wonders through out the meadows of life with the valuable lessons learned from those experiences. He decides that in order to find his own answers and questions and have the opportunity to own his voice, thoughts and actions, he needed to go against the cultural stereotypes and connect with his first love- education.