Saturday, September 21, 2013

EDUC 7718 Week 3

EDUC 7718 - Week 3

How many master myths/cultural models/ figured worlds  are at work in your school situation?  How do they conflict or agree with each other?  If there are too many, choose just a few to describe in depth.    Pay attention to the indicators of voice and words in these various cultural models .  

    Henry Abbott Tech is one of Connecticut's State Technical High Schools and is located in Danbury. Students rotate between academic classes and trades in two week "cycles."  They wear uniforms in both academics and shop. Half of our students come from the City of Danbury, a third of the remainder come from rural New Milford, and the rest come from predominantly white Fairfield County suburbs. Danbury has many South American immigrants who choose to send their children to Abbott. There are visibly more boys than girls in our building.  All but four of the trade instructors are men.  Three of the four women teach hairdressing.

    "The various cultural models that a particular social group....uses often share certain basic assumptions.  These assumptions form master myths of the social group." (Gee, 111.)

    I have worked as the librarian at Abbott Tech for twelve years.  Prior to working here, I thought of Abbott as a school for kids who are "good with their hands." As an insider, it is hard to step outside and recognize the schoolwide assumptions because they are "normal... commonsense." (Gee,111)  I had to back into one of Abbott's master myths by focusing on some of our school's basic assumptions.

- "Sports rule."  This is common in high schools. Until we started a football program, it was less obvious.
- "Abbott Tech is family."  Many of the students who could not wait to graduate return to tell teachers how much they miss Abbott.  Trade teachers become mentors or parent figures to many of our students.  
- "Shop rules are more lenient."  We have school uniforms, and some of the trade teachers are lax about enforcing the rules. There are also breaks. This bothers the academic teachers.
- "Abbott Tech is a school for students who do not plan to go on to college."  Middle school guidance counselors in our white suburban sending districts encourage students that are not college-bound to apply.
-"Kids don't stay after school for clubs. They don't have transportation." For many years, we have had no after-school clubs.  This is changing. We now have four.
-"Hairdressing is for girls."  There a exceptions, but traditionally male fields, (auto shops, construction trades) attract one or two girls. In this order, girls gravitate to hairdressing, culinary arts, CADD and graphics. Boys willingly try all trades but hairdressing. (They must try it for two days.)
-"I don't have to be smart to get into Abbott Tech."  Although they have to pass their eighth grade CMT's or a basic entrance test, students know they do not have to be top students to attend Abbott.

    Upon reading chapter 6 of Gee's Social Linguistics and Literacies, I noticed that revealing a master myth or  a cultural model can be jarring to people who haven't thought in those terms.  Jane is surprised at her word choices in two situations (91).  The working class men in Rhode Island were disappointed in their own "success" as determined by the American work ethic cultural model (109).  I was pleasantly surprised when I recognized one of Abbott Tech's master myths.

"Students can be successful at Abbott Tech even if they weren't successful at their last school."
     Abbott Tech offers trade technologies which require different skills than traditional academic courses. Many of our students are pleased and surprised when they get on the honor roll for the first time in their academic lives. Our National Honor Society members would not be invited to apply to NHS at other schools. This is because we do not have a "top tier" of Ivy League bound students. We do not offer AP classes. Most of our college-bound students get sizeable scholarships. Some of them had never considered college until they found success at Abbott. .

I heard a new substitute teacher comment on the fact that (Abbott) "students do the bare minimum work for classes."  There are exceptions, but that is mostly true.  Any LEA teacher would agree, though, that this describes the majority of high school students. As part of a state-wide district, our students are required to participate in Accelerated Reader (mostly used in elementary/middle schools) and Math Lab (self-paced math support.) This works well for struggling students.

For many students, success in the trades makes a huge difference in their lives and their self-esteem. Trade instructors place qualified students in area businesses.  At Senior Awards at the end of the school year, there are cash awards for shop performance.    

With No Child Left Behind and the CT Common Core, there is a strong focus on academic success.  At Abbott Tech, we are able to help our students find other ways to be successful during the school day.

Is it (as Gee suggests) “the job of the teacher to allow students to grow beyond both the cultural models of their home cultures and those of the mainstream and school culture”???? Should it be more than “allow”, should it be “require”????    How does this play against (or with) the right of every individual to be him or   herself and stay that way?

    Following the Common Core State Standards, all children are expected to be able to perform school-based, higher-order, creative thinking.  This sounds like teachers should "require" students to grow beyond the cultural models of their home cultures and those of the mainstream culture. If "average reading achievement has not changed markedly over the last 20 years" (NAEP, 1997), according to the Standards, no matter their background, children should be able to catch up and surpass their parents' achievement. Students will all be college and career ready. It is the teacher's job to get them there.

Even though it is not all "academics," at Abbott Tech, we allow, and sometimes require, children to grow beyond their home cultures and the mainstream culture. Students have exposure to the technical aspects of work that their families and neighbors may never have encountered. Because we are a melting pot of so many different backgrounds, we can't help but expand our students' knowledge of the greater community.

    The more I read and listen to current research about home and local culture's effect on a child's success in school, especially the interviews with the researchers in the "Children of the Code" readings, the more unattainable our Nation's education goals sound. If it is true that children’s success in school correlates with spoken language at home (Meaningful Differences, Risley) we will need to start public education with babies in order to fulfill today's education expectations.

Reflective commentary:
     For me, "school" means "written," not spoken.  I like to use specific words and I like to reread and change what I write.  I babble on video. This medium worked well. Classmates can read it at their own pace or pick out important pieces to look at.


  1. Great job I your school's master myth is powerful for your students.

  2. I am going to spend more time thinking about your designation of school as written rather than spoken. So school gives more power to good readers and writers rather than good speakers? What about good visual artists,dancers, plumbers, or model builders-- people whose media are physical rather than words in any form? Is this a difference between the Vo-Tech world and the traditional academic HS world?

    How does it play out in the "real world"? Athletes and musicians have status earned not by facility with words, right? So much to think about.