Psicología del Arte – Lev Vygotsky

Psicología del Arte - Vygotsky 2006

El arte es lo social en nuestro interior, e incluso cuando su acción la lleva a cabo un individuo aislado, ello no significa que su esencia sea individual.  Resulta bastante ingenuo y desatinado confundir lo social con lo colectivo, como en una gran multitud de personas.  Lo social también existe cuando sólo hay una persona, con sus experiencias y tribulaciones individuales.  Por ello la acción del arte al realizar la catarsis y arrojar dentro de esa llama purificadora las experiencias, emociones y sentimientos más íntimos y trascendentes del alma, es una acción social.  Pero esta experiencia no se desarrolla según lo describe la teoría de la contaminación (en la que un sentimiento nacido en una persona contagia y contamina a todo el mundo y se convierte en social), sino justo al revés.  La fusión de sentimientos fuera de nosotros la lleva a cabo la fuerza del sentimiento social, que es objetivizado, materializado y proyectado fuera de nosotros y fijado entonces en objetos artísticos externos que se han convertido en herramientas de la sociedad.

–Vygotsky (2006, pag. 304)

El juego es muy importante para los niños de edad temprano.  Es la manera que los niños aprenden la mayoría que pueden aprender.  En su libro sobre el arte en general, y específicamente la literatura, Vygotsky dice que, “para el niño existe una similitud psicológica entre el arte y el juego” (2006, pág. 314).  Este significa que los niños pueden jugar y pueden hacer arte con los mismos pensamientos.

Lo veo este en mis clases todo el tiempo.  Cuando los niños dibujan ellos me dicen lo que hacen los personajes que dibujan.  Están imaginando con sus dibujos en una manera como el juego.  Con la literatura que hacen este es más evidente.  Las historias pueden ser obras del arte, pero para los niños las historias usan los mismos procesos psicológicos como el juego.  Las historias forman una manera de analizar el proceso psicológico del juego.

En sus historias, los niños juegan con las emociones y los sentimientos.  Los niños crean historias que usan humor, miedo, alegría, justicia, amor, y muchos más temas.  Usualmente los niños usan numeroso emociones en una historia.  Vygotsky revela que “una obra artística (como una fábula, un cuento, una tragedia) incluye siempre una contradicción afectiva, suscita sentimientos en conflicto y desemboca en el cortocircuito y la destrucción de dichas emociones” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 263).

El concepto del uso de los sentimientos en conflicto se manifiesta en esta historia por Enid:

A Película en Rapunzel

Una vez estaba una princesa.  Y allí estaba en su castillo.  Y pues ella era Rapunzel.  Y pues allí hubo un señor en la casa.  Y pues cortó su pelo.  Y pues allí estaba un castillo en un bosque.  Y allí una vez hay un dragon.  Y pues un muchacho niño para matar a un dragon.  Y pues ellos se cazaron.  Y pues ellos estaban juntos.

En la narración, esta historia es maravillosa.  Tuvo un gran empiezo que estableció la protagonista y el escenario.  Hubo tensión, primero con el hombre en la casa que cortó su pelo, y después tensión más dramática con el dragón.  Finalmente la historia terminó con alegría cuando mataron al dragón y terminaron juntos.  Esta historia contenía una dualidad de manipulación emocional que hace gran literatura, uniendo temor con alegría en precisamente el momento perfecto.  El hecho que yo escribí “se cazaron” en lugar de lo que más probable quería decir “se casaron” muestre esta dualidad perfectamente.  Mientras mi miente estaba pensando en el matado del dragón, yo creía que ella hablaría sobra una caza de dragones, pero en precisamente ese punto en la historia ella cambió su sentido y habló sobre el matrimonio.

Vygotsky dice, “El acto de creación artística no puede enseñarse.  Esto no significa, sin embargo, que el educador no pueda cooperar a la hora de formarlo u ocasionarlo.  En el subconsciente penetramos a través del consciente” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 313).  No enseñé a Enid cómo usar emociones en su obra, ni cómo yuxtaponerlos para cambiar el sentido de la obra.  Pero el hecho que reconocí esta obra como una obra que puede influir mis emociones mostró a ella que sus palabras tienen poder.  Y cuando los niños reconocen que sus palabras son poderosos, pueden manipular las palabras para mostrar su agencia.

Vygotsky señala que es importante considerar “el arte como método para construir la vida” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 316).  Para los niños una cosa que es más importante en la vida es la familia.  Pues, muchos niños crean historias sobre la familia.  En esas historias, de frecuente un personaje pierde su familia, y el conflicto desarrolla de la búsqueda a su familia, como esta historia por Stephanie:

Elsa y Anna y un Oso Polar

Una vez una chiquito oso polar vino.  Un chiquita.  Y pues alguien vien.  Princesa Elsa.  Una vez el oso polar no quiere familia.  Y dijeron que ellos no van quedarte con nosotros todo tiempo.  Triste.  Y ella dijo, “¿Puedo regresa contigo un otro día?” Un otra dijoren, “Pior cien pueda quedar con nos otros.” Príncipe vino y el niña se casó las dos niñas Elsa y Anna.

Al primero, Stephanie contó esta historia en inglés, y después ella tradujo la historia en español.  En la versión en inglés, la oración “Una vez el oso polar no quiere familia,” era “And then the polar bear had no family” (“Y pues el oso polar no tenía familia”).  Ella usó la palabra “quiere” en lugar de la palabra “tiene.”

Este es interesante porque ella aún está aprendiendo español, y en su mente, las palabras “querer” y “tener” son indistinguibles en español.  Esta paradoja entre lo que el personaje quería y lo que el personaje tenía fue accidente, pero muestra una cosa muy importante en esta historia.  Si el oso polar no quería familia, el resto de la historia no tiene sentido.  ¿Por qué la osa polar está triste cuando Elsa y Anna no quieren quedarse con el oso polar?  ¿Por qué la osa polar pide regresar con ellas?

Las palabras que un autor elige son muy importantes.  Vygotsky dice que “Los sonidos sólo se tornan significativos si la palabra es significativa” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 96).  Para Stephanie, los sonidos de las palabras “quiere” y “tiene” son bastantes similares para intercambiar las palabras, pero para un lector de español las palabras tienen significativos muy diferentes.

Este es muy importante, porque el significativo se construye en el elemento social.  Creo que lo más importante de este libro es la declaración de Vygotsky que “El arte es lo social en nuestro interior, e incluso cuando su acción la lleva a cabo un individuo aislado, ello no significa que su esencia sea individual” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 304).

 

En la mes que viene más probable hablaré sobre el libro, Educating Emergent Bilinguals por García y Kleifgen (2010).  Si hay un libro que usted quiere que yo discute en este blog, por favor haga comentario en la página de Lectura Recomendada.

 

Referencias

García, O. & J.A. Kleifgen (2010). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English language learners.  Nueva York: Teachers College Press.

Vygotsky, L. (2006 [1971, 1925]). Psicología del arte (C. Roche, Trad.).  Barcelona, España: Ediciones Paidós.

 

 

White Teacher – Vivian Paley

(en español)

White Teacher - Paley 2000

The local library had recently added some toys to the children’s section. There was a large number of blocks in a variety of colors, but there were only two dolls: one White and one Black. Most of my students, however, were neither White nor Black. I recall seeing Jonathan, a Vietnamese student, playing with the Black doll one day. He was holding it very gently and carrying it around as any parent would their own baby. I smiled inwardly at the sight as I went to go help another child locate a book on a shelf. A moment later I noticed a commotion between Jonathan and Samuel, a Pakistani student. I went to see what was wrong, and now I saw Jonathan holding the White doll, while Samuel was holding the Black one. Jonathan said that he didn’t like the other doll because it was “brown.”

At first I wasn’t sure how to respond. Vivian Paley discusses how her training and her colleagues had brought her to the point where “I was unable to mention color in the classroom” (2000, p. 9). It was a taboo subject, so when the topic came up among children (as it typically does in a diverse classroom), she did not know how to approach it. In Jonathan’s case, I needed to get to the heart of his concern. As Paley states, “doll corner play at its best contains some of the freest expressions and most thoughtful observations in the kindergarten” (2000, p. 84). I needed myself to remain thoughtful and not react spuriously to Jonathan’s statement, so I asked him to clarify his desires. He told me that he wanted the doll that looked more like him.

Unfortunately, the reality was that neither doll looked like him. The White doll may have been closer in skin tone, but the facial features were far from being representative of Jonathan’s own face. Paley tells us that “The challenge in teaching is to find a way of communicating to each child the idea that his or her special quality is understood, is valued and can be talked about. It is not easy, because we are influenced by the fears and prejudices, apprehensions and expectations, which have become a carefully hidden part of every one of us” (2000, p. xx). How could I value Jonathan’s desire to find a doll he could identify with while not encouraging prejudice against those dolls that did not share his features.

I feel it would have been easier in some ways if Jonathan were White. I think about the term “White privilege,” and the idea that racism is an institutionalized oppression of a minority group by a dominant group. That is familiar territory. Ever since I was a child I have felt that oppression of minorities by a majority group is wrong, and I would speak out against racism when I saw it. For situations of expressions of identity by members of a minority group I instead applied the term “nationalism,” recognizing this as a means to confront the oppression that they face.

My years of teaching in diverse classrooms have helped me to realize, however, that nationalism is not necessarily a positive quality to promote. In this instance the nationalism I was observing was a member of one minority group seeking to express his identity by devaluing another minority group. As with Vivian Paley, I felt that “teaching children with different cultural and language experiences kept pushing me toward the growing edge” (2000, p. 112). I needed to rethink my approach to interracial and intercultural conflict in the classroom. The diversity of my classroom provided an opportunity for me to help the children address some deep-seated biases toward other minority groups.

It is important to help children see that, despite superficial similarities, underneath everyone is unique. As Paley states, “Friendship and love grow out of recognizing and respecting differences” (2000, p. 131). However, perhaps more important is helping children see that, despite superficial differences, underneath everyone is alike. As Paley suggests, “it’s a source of comfort to be able to identify with someone else’s feelings” (2000, p. 124). If I can help Jonathan see that beneath the differences are common interests perhaps he can grow to welcome the diversity in his life. I spoke to him about how some of the children he plays with are brown and that everybody has different skin tones. I pointed out two children he often enjoys playing with, both of whom had darker skin that Jonathan. I drew attention to Michael, an Ethiopian student, and to Samuel, the child with whom he had been in conflict that day. One day in the middle of the following week Jonathan spontaneously came up to me and said, “My Daddy is brown.” His father is also Vietnamese, but has a darker skin tone than Jonathan. This unprovoked statement of fact revealed to me that he was seriously taking to heart the conversation we had in the library that day.

Paley states that “children know they are each different in style and story; they listen eagerly and identify with one another’s separate visions of pleasure and pain, of strength and weakness, of love and loss. In their play, they reveal the intuitive and universal language that binds us all together” (2000, p. 135). As teachers it is our role to become a part of that story, to become a part of that binding. The more we can help children see that, though differences exist, there is something greater that makes us all human, the more we can help them to create a better world in which they can become agents for social justice and change.

 

Next month I will most likely be discussing The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home by Jonathan Kozol (1990). If there is a book you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading Page.

 

References

Kozol, J. (1990 [1975]). The night is dark and I am far from home: A bold inquiry into the values and goals of America’s schools, revised edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Paley, V.G. (2000 [1979]). White teacher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Reading Magic – Mem Fox

en español

Reading Magic - Fox 2008

I recall attending a workshop on multicultural children’s literature. The presenters had a table displaying a large number of books. I instantly recognized a couple of them from a distance, but it wasn’t until I got closer that I realized that every single book was depicting African Americans in the illustrations. I recall wondering at the outset of the workshop why they were depicting only one culture in a workshop about multiculturalism.

Mem Fox indicates that “The more we read aloud to our kids and the more they read by themselves, the more experience they’ll have of the world through the things they encounter in books. And the more experience they have of the world, the easier it will be to read” (2008, p. 104). If we are only exposing children to books of their own culture, how are we going to help children to get that greater experience of the world?

The workshop presenters teach in a classroom with all African American children. They discussed the metaphor of books as both a mirror and a window, allowing children to see themselves as well as to open their eyes to new experiences. They presented these two images as side-by-side, with one graphic showing a full-length mirror and the other graphic showing an open window. As I considered this, I wondered if it might be more appropriate to consider books as a closed window, where one can see one’s own reflection in the glass imposed on a new landscape.

The challenge of finding appropriate multicultural books, then, is one of finding books which both speak to the experiences of a child while at the same time introducing them to new worlds they have not yet seen. A closer examination of the books in the workshop revealed that they all accomplished this. Fox states, “Entertainment is the teacher. Subtlety is the key” (2008, p. 53). Though the themes represented a wide variety of subtle concepts, they were all entertaining to the presenters’ students partly because they all depicted characters that the students could connect with.

This is where I have a dilemma. While books depicting African American characters are not as common as those depicting white characters, it has become possible to find a significant number of them. But in my classroom, the majority of my students are Vietnamese. Very few books depict the experiences of a Vietnamese child growing up in the United States in a way that allows children to connect with them. On top of the cultural disconnect, there is also the issue of language.

Having books in the languages that children speak are immensely valuable as well, not only for the ability of children to connect to the text, but also for children to build a foundation of understanding of the written word. As Fox reveals, “The more we know about a language… and the more of that language we know, the easier it is to read it” (2008, p. 87). Books that are not only bilingual but also bicultural are very valuable, but also very rare. I have in my classroom books that were written in English, and later translated into another language due to the popularity of the book. Much fewer are the books originally written in both languages by authors who represent the cultures. Most of the books that I have in my personal children’s library that meet these conditions tend to be very text-heavy and written for older children.

Fox tells us that “if every parent—and every adult caring for a child—read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation” (2008, p. 12). But this entails there being books available to read to the children. Not just three token books, but three genuinely engaging books because “It will do more for a child’s literacy to own one much-loved, beautifully written, trouble-filled book than to own lots of tacky, unappealing books in which the child shows no interest” (2008, p. 135).

My challenge, then, as a teacher, is locating such books. Given the scarcity of these books, I decided that I needed to remedy this. I approached a Vietnamese friend of mine with a proposal to create a children’s book together. With his expertise in Vietnamese culture and my understanding of what is appealing to children, we have drafted a book together that my students could connect with. But then we were faced with the problem of illustrations. Neither of us is very skilled at drawing.

This presented a major dilemma, as Fox reveals that “The pictures tell a thousand words and help unlock the action of the story” (2008, p. 58). I know that many publishers provide beginning authors with established illustrators to help increase the visibility of the book, but I worried about the lack of Vietnamese illustrators. How would someone unfamiliar with the culture depict a Vietnamese household? And what would we do if we are not able to find a publisher?

With the help of another one of my Vietnamese friends, I located a couple of artists in Vietnam who seemed interested in the project, but they quickly removed themselves from the project when they realized the intensity of work involved in illustrating an entire picture book. I decided to take my cue from one of my favorite children’s authors, Nina Crews, and utilize photographs to depict the backgrounds. At the time of this post I have currently completed illustrations on about 15% of the book using computer-generated character illustrations imposed on photographic backgrounds.

The text has already been translated into Vietnamese by my co-author, and I once asked the mother of one of my Vietnamese students, Danny, to read it to him. As she began to look at the text, she started to tell me that it would be too difficult for him. I found that interesting because the very same text had raised concerns from my co-author about possibly being too simple. As Danny’s mother began reading, I saw the excitement of recognition in his eyes as she read words to him that were unintelligible to me, but occasionally elicited excited exclamations from him in English that demonstrated understanding of the story. Fox tells us, “there’s no doubt that little kids—and big ones—love being read aloud to” (2008, p. 26). If this story, unillustrated, can provoke such enjoyment in Danny, I can only imagine what his response will be when the illustrations are added.

I have mentioned in a previous post my attempts at reading to the children in Vietnamese. Without my understanding of the language, my attempts met with humorous excitement from the students, but I am now fairly certain that they were just humoring me when they told me my pronunciation was right. Even if I was pronouncing it accurately, Fox makes it clear that “Reading isn’t merely being able to pronounce the words correctly, a fact that surprises most people. Reading is being able to make sense from the marks on the page” (2008, p. 79).

I have taken multiple steps to help remedy this. On one account, I recently began learning Vietnamese after assisting my co-author in developing a free online course for Vietnamese speakers to learn English. My fieldwork getting translations in various dialects helped build my awareness of resources available in my neighborhood to learn Vietnamese. But not all of my students speak Vietnamese, and after Micah, an Amharic-speaking student, raised his objections to my offering to read a book in either Spanish, English, or Vietnamese, I invited his mother to come read the book to the class in Amharic. Ever since then, our weekly trip to the library has usually been accompanied by a different parent come to read to the children. At times other children in the library have sat down to listen to the reading as well.

It’s wonderful to see such engagement from the children in the reading process. As Fox makes clear, “if we’re able to raise happier, brighter children by reading aloud to them, the well-being of the entire country will ramp up a notch” (2008, p. xii).

Next month I will most likely be discussing the book Learning and Not Learning English by Guadalupe Valdés (2001). If you have a book that you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.

 

References

Fox, M. (2008). Reading magic: Why reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever, updated and revised edition. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Publishing.

Valdés, G. (2001). Learning and not learning English: Latino students in American schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Pensamiento y Lenguaje – L.S. Vygotsky

(in English)

Pensamiento y Lenguaje - Vygotsky 2012Llegué en un templo para celebrar el Año Nuevo Lunar.  Había estado allí por unos pocos momentos antes de una de mis estudiantes corrió hacia mí y me dio un gran abrazo.  Todas las personas en el templo hablaban vietnamita, pero, sin mi estudiante, no los podía entender.  Vygotsky dice que, “La función primaria del lenguaje es la comunicación, el intercambio social” (2012, p. 21).  En este ambiente no puedo participar en tal intercambio social.  ¿Cómo debería sentir mis estudiantes en mi aula cuándo no hablan inglés?

Es por esta razón que también utilizo los idiomas de mis estudiantes en mi aula.  Los estudiantes que hablan vietnamita me enseñan palabras del idioma, el cuál es hablado por la mayoría de mis estudiantes.  Cantamos algunas canciones en vietnamita, y utilizo las pocas palabras que sé cuándo puedo.  Como Vygotsky expone, “El éxito en el aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera es contingente de un cierto grado de madurez en la nativa” (2012, p. 131).  En esta situación, por mis estudiantes, la “lengua extranjera,” no es extranjera, pero tampoco es la nativa, aunque tiene similitudes con ambas.

Lo importante es que está siendo utilizado como medio de comunicación.  Vygotsky declara, “la función prmaria de las palabras, tanto en los niños como en los adultos, es la comunicación, el contact social” (2012, p. 35).  Y en mi aula la comunicación es muy importante.  Una actividad más importante es la dramatización de los cuentos que habían sido dictadas por mis estudiantes.  Aunque todos de mis estudiantes hablan otras idiomas en sus casas, en mi aula prefieren contar sus cuentos en inglés, porque inglés es la idioma común en mi aula.  Y entonces, a veces pueden contar cuentos juntos.  El siguiente cuento se dictó por dos estudiantes, Nhung, quién es vietnamita, y Maxine, quién es china:

Once upon a time there was a monkey go in the princess house. Because the princess fall down, the baby cry and Mommy helpeded the baby. And then ’cause the window fall on the people. Danny eat food with his Mommy. And then the baby cried.

[Érase una vez había un mono ir en la casa princesa.  Porque la princesa se caer, el bebé llorar y Mamá ayudodado al bebé.  Y entonces porque la ventana caer en la gente.  Danny comer comida con su Mamá.  Y entonces el bebé lloró.]

El cuento contiene errores, pero es comunicativo.  En esta historia las estudiantes están explorando los conceptos de peligro y de ayudar.  ¿Qué es el significado de caer?  ¿Cómo afecta a la gente?  El bebé lloró cuando la princesa se cayó, entonces la madre ayudó al bebé, pero no a la princesa.  Y cuando la ventana se cayó sobre la gente, el bebé lloró otra vez, pero Danny y su madre comieron, inconscientes de la ventana.  El bebé fue la personaje más importante del cuento, y las palabras las ayudan describir esto.

Y también las niñas descubrieron que las palabras escritas son diferentes de las palabras orales.  Vygotsky manifesta que, “En el lenguaje escrito, como el tono de la voz y el conocimiento del tema están excluidos, nos vemos obligados a usar muchas más palabras y de modo más exacto” (2012, p. 166).  ¿Por qué el bebé lloró?  Porque la princesa se cayó y entonces la ventana cayó sobre la gente.

Y estas dos estudiantes de culturas diferentes encontraron algo común en esta tema.  En ambas culturas, los bebés lloran y las madres los ayudan.  Para Nhung, también pudo traducir la palabra “baby” (bebé) en vietnamita.  Maxine no pudo traducir la palabra en el momento, pero después vendría a disfrutar de traducir palabras al chino.  Y hacía.

Y las palabras son muy importantes.  Vygotsky nos dice, “el uso de la palabra es una parte integral del proceso de desarrollo, que mantiene su función directriz en la formación de los conceptos genuinos, a los que conducen estos procesos” (2012, p. 101).  Porque palabras son tan importante para el desarrollo, es importante que los niños las encuentran frequentamente en su idioma nativo.  Tengo libros en todos los idiomas de mis estudiantes.

Éste será la tema del próximo mes, donde hablaré del libro Reading Magic por Mem Fox.  Si hay un libro que le gustaría que yo discutirse en este blog, por favor comente en la página de Recommended Reading.

Referencias

Fox, M. (2008). Reading magic: Why reading aloud to our children will change their lives forever, updated and revised edition. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Publishing.

Vygotsky, L.S. (2012 [1934]). Pensamiento y lenguaje (J. Itzigsohn, Tran. & Ed.). Mexico City, Mexico: Ediciones Quinto Sol.

d/Deaf and d/Dumb: A Portrait of a Deaf Kid as a Young Superhero – J.M. Valente

(en español)

d-Deaf and d-Dumb - Valente 2011Prior to reading his book, d/Deaf and d/Dumb: A Portrait of a Deaf Kid as a Young Superhero (Valente 2011), I have had the opportunity to meet Joseph Michael Valente on several occasions.  I recall attending a roundtable discussion he presented at a conference last year in which he discussed issues related to deaf culture and education.  He spoke of the problems with the IEP process.  He gave life to his frustration with d/Deaf children being labeled as “disabled” (I use the term “gave life to” rather than “voiced” because, as he says, “Voice implies speech is necessary for empowering people, whereas life recognizes the visual culture of deafness and shows deference to lived experiences, frequently overlooked in research on deafness and disabilities in general” 2011, p. 21).  I remember telling him about the fact that, as a teacher in multicultural classrooms, I strive to learn to understand, and to some degree speak, the languages of all of my students, and that this includes learning and using some ASL (American Sign Language) in my classrooms.  Valente pointed out at this point that d/Deaf education is very different than multilingual education.

I didn’t fully understand what he meant by that at the time.  Now, having read his autobiographical book about his life as a deaf child growing up in a hearing world I have a clearer understanding of the distinction.  Valente points out that “The ideological state apparatus sustains conditions of oppression against deaf children” (2011, p. 19).  He speaks of what it was like growing up within this oppressive state: of the struggles and discrimination he faced as a child; of the teachers who punished him for attempting to learn sign language; of the kids who ridiculed him and took away his hearing aids; of the sense of predestined failure he was made to feel that led him to attempt suicide his first year in college.  As he puts it, “For me, the term ‘deaf and dumb’ symbolizes moments in my life, both past and present, where I feel the overwhelming weight of internalized alienation, stigma, and failure” (2011, p. 67).

For Valente, the key to overcoming this feeling of despair came through words.  As a child, Valente wore a cape and imagined himself as a superhero.  The moment he made the realization that “words are power.  Words are superpowers” (2011, p. 5), he gained a level of agency that he hadn’t before realized.  Phonocentric society had attempted to deny him this agency, and Valente reveals that “Many minority culture members have struggled to gain access to and have been punished for a language and literacy that an oppressive majority society wanted to control.  But often the lure of literacy is too much to resist” (2011, p. 37).  He discovered that words can be used for resistance to the status quo.

He found this not only in discovering his own words through distinguishing the subtleties of difference between “bumped” and “crashed” (2011, p. 5), or between “fighting” and “self-defending” (2011, p. 119) but he also discovered the words of others.  Though he had to fight for it along the way, he was able to make the academic world open itself to him, and throughout his book he references the works of writers such as Foucault, Butler, and Freire[1].  He discovered that “theory is not something we should believe in but something we should use” (2011, pp. 125-126).

This strikes a particular chord in me, as I sit here writing my blog about how theory can be used in my own life as a teacher.  I think about the path Valente took to come to this realization.  On the positive end there was Mrs. Kappell, the teacher that stood by him throughout his elementary years and the one he could turn to for support when he needed it, even long after he was no longer her student.  And on the negative end there were the IEP meetings that withheld information from him and told him that it was okay to be mediocre.  But for Valente, “What hurt me so much from that meeting was that I wanted the chance to be smart, and not be just mediocre” (2011, p. 75).

I think back to my own experiences as I was attending college to become a teacher.  I recall observing one parent-teacher conference in which a child was in tears because he was getting a C in math.  The teacher attempted to reassure him that a C was a passing grade; that it was okay to be getting a C; that a C meant that he was a good student.  The purpose of this was to boost the child’s self-esteem, but the child, like Valente, strove to be more than just a C-student.  It wasn’t until the teacher went to the desk and pulled out the most recent homework assignment which hadn’t yet been returned, and showed the child that he had gotten an A on it, that the student looked as though he was trusting the words of the teacher once more.

When Valente had that pain of his own mediocrity revealed to him, he insisted on seeing his IEP file.  It wasn’t until he had snuck into the location it was stored and looked at it himself that he was able to get a real sense of the areas in which he needed improvement.  “I make notes on paper to myself: vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing conventions and more.  This is the night I decide I want to be smart” (2011, p. 74).  Building confidence is important, but teachers also need to be open and honest with our students about their capabilities in order for them to push themselves to succeed.

For Valente, it wasn’t his d/Deafness that was holding him back, it was the educational system itself.  As he indicates, “Schools serve as sites of social formation and enculturation.  Ideology is everywhere; it is embedded in our thoughts and our institutions” (2011, p. 96).  So while I will continue learning and using ASL in my classroom, I must also remember that being d/Deaf is more than just speaking a different language, and that “Being Deaf means I belong to a culture, not a disability category” (2011, p. 143).

If you have a book you would like to see me discuss in this blog, please comment on the Recommended Reading page.  Next month I will most likely be looking at Kathleen Bailey’s Learning about language assessment: Dilemmas, decisions, and directions (1998).

References

Bailey, K.M. (1998). Learning about language assessment: Dilemmas, decisions, and directions. Cambridge, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Valente, J.M. (2011). d/Deaf and d/Dumb: A portrait of a deaf kid as a young superhero. New York, NY: Peter Lang.


[1] Some of these authors’ works are listed in my Recommended Reading page

Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution – Morris, Collett, Marsh, & O’Shaughnessy

(en español)

Gestures - Morris, Collett, Marsh, OShaughnessy 1979fWhen TLCThinkLiteracy suggested that I write a blog post about common gestures and their meanings in different languages, I excitedly rummaged through my gesture literature to find the most-cited book dealing with this topic.  That book is Gestures: Their origins and distribution by Desmond Morris, Peter Collett, Peter Marsh, and Marie O’Shaughnessy (1979).

Gestures - Morris, Collett, Marsh, OShaughnessy 1979b

20 Emblem Gestures

This book is primarily an anthropological analysis of emblem gestures used throughout Europe.  According to the authors, “Emblems are actions which replace speech and can act as substitutes for verbal statements” (1979, p. xx).  Illustrations of the emblem gestures they used for analysis were printed on the back cover of the book, which I have scanned here.

I am currently in the process of analyzing video data that I recorded of eight of my students as part of a research project examining what children’s nonverbal communication reveals about their developing understandings of gender concepts.  Out of 422 gestures I recorded, only 11 of them were emblems.  The most common emblem, comprising nearly half (45.5%) of the emblem gestures used by these children, was the raising of a hand to get a teacher’s attention.  Perhaps because this particular emblem would seem to be one that would tend to be restricted to classroom environments, it did not become part of Morris et. al.’s cross-cultural analysis of middle-aged European males (1979, p. xviii).

Blocks are O.K.

The only gesture which I recorded that was discussed in this text was the “thumb up” (#16 in the illustration), the primary feature of this gesture being that “the clenched hand is extended, with the thumb vertically erect” (1979, p. 186).  In my videos of Tanish (age 4 years; 4 months), I noticed that this gesture was used once by Kimberley (4;10) while she was playing with Tanish, then once a week later by Tanish himself when he was playing alone.  In both instances the child making the gesture was working on building something out of blocks, and the gesture was made just after a previously precarious block was made to balance so that it would not fall down.  The similarity between these two instances leads me to wonder whether this is a common gesture used by the children in block-building, or whether it was an example of delayed imitation on the part of Tanish.

If it is true that this gesture has become common to block-building, then the gendered implications of Kimberley’s usage of this gesture is significant.  Often teachers consider block play to be the domain primarily of boys, but we see in this instance that not only is a girl engaging in block play, but her gesture usage in such play demonstrates that this is not an isolated instance but rather that that she has internalized a gesture associated with this type of play.

It is possible that the gesture is not common to block-building, but rather that Tanish was engaging in delayed imitation of Kimberley.  Perhaps he was creating a personal association with the gesture and block-building such that he repeated the gesture even when Kimberley was not present.  In this instance, we again we see a gendered significance.  This is an example of a boy choosing to imitate the behavior of a female peer.  Another common view held by teachers is that children tend to prefer play with children of their own genders, but the fact that Tanish internalized a behavior demonstrated by a peer of a different gender indicates that his interaction with Kimberley meant more than just the single instance of block play caught on video.

The meaning of this gesture in both of these instances would seem to be consistent with the “O.K.” meaning of the gesture as identified by Morris et. al. (1979, p. 186).  This meaning is used in every area studied by the authors, though in the Greco-Italian region the usage was less common.  In Greece, Corfu, and parts of Sardinia, it is likely that the reason it is not as common with the “O.K.” meaning is because the gesture also holds an alternate meaning of an obscene insult.  The authors point out that “although both the insult meaning and the O.K. meaning are present in these countries, in southern Sardinia and northern Greece the obscene insult is dominant” (1979, pp. 195-196).  As for the rest of Sardinia, Sicily, and mainland Italy the lack of usage is probably related to the fact that “the O.K. ring [#9] is more popular in Italy” (1979, p. 195).  In mainland Italy in particular, the thumb up was considered to be more tied to American culture.  “At every location we visited on mainland Italy, at least one person identified it as ‘The American O.K.’” (1979, p. 193).

Other meanings for the thumb up gesture, which did not hold significant frequency in any region, were the number one, hitch-hike, and indication of direction (1979, p. 195).

Spiderman called you a cuckold

Though none of the other emblems discussed in the text appeared in the video data of my gesture research project, I do occasionally notice children in my classrooms making a gesture which resembles “the horn-sign” (#10 & #11), in which “the hand is [held up/pointed forward] with the forefinger and the little finger extended [vertically/horizontally].  The other two fingers are held down in a bent position by the thumb” (1979, p. 120, p. 136).  This gesture tends to occur when children are engaging in superhero play, specifically with regard to Spiderman.  In the 2002 movie starring Tobey Maguire there is a scene in which Spiderman experiments with different hand positions for shooting his webs, and one of the positions he tries is the vertical horn-sign, before finally discovering a similar hand position, in which the thumb is also extended while the hand is held palm-up horizontally.  This is the hand position typically recognized as being used by Spiderman to trigger his web-shooter.

I recall at one point overhearing a conversation between a young 4-year-old boy and his mother in which the child modeled both the thumb-extended versions of the Spiderman web-shooting gesture along with an upside-down version of the horizontal horn-sign as a thumb-retracted version of the web-shooting gesture.  He explained to his mother that girls use the thumb-extended version while boys (including himself) use the thumb-retracted version.  Personally, I’ve noticed that it tends to be younger children, regardless of gender, that use the thumb-retracted version, while older children, regardless of gender, tend to use the thumb-extended version, which requires greater fine-motor coordination.  The child, however, was projecting his own preferred method onto his same-gender peers.  In preschool classrooms, both hand formations have come to be emblematic of Spiderman.

Out of curiosity, I consulted a comic book expert known as TheDissilent, who helped me to skim through the first seventeen years of Spiderman comics (from when it began in 1962 until 1979, when Morris et. al. published Gestures) to see what hand positions Spiderman was depicted as using when shooting or attempting to shoot his webs and how frequently Spiderman was depicted as using the thumb-retracted horn-sign in such a context.  Of course, the large majority of the time he used the thumb-extended version of the gesture (61.9% of left-handed webs; 65.6% of right-handed webs).  It turns out that he positioned his hand in the true thumb-retracted horn-sign only about 3.4% of the time with the right hand and about 3.9% of the time with the left hand over the course of this period.  The highest frequency use of this form occurred in 1973, when the right hand used it 23.1% of the time and the left hand used it 25.0% of the time.

This would place Marvel Comics’ prime use of the gesture about halfway between when it was first introduced to rock music culture by the band Coven in 1968, and when Black Sabbath popularized the gesture as representative of heavy metal culture in 1979.  This use of the gesture in popular music probably stems from its meaning as a form of protection or a curse, in which the horns are acting “as symbols of power and aggression” (1979, pp. 128-129).  Prior to 1979, however, this usage as protection or curse was very minor, even in the parts of Italy, Malta, and Yugoslavia in which it was found.  Instead, Morris et. al. documented the gesture’s primary usage to be “the sign for a cuckold.  Its message is: your wife has been unfaithful to you and has given you the horns of a cuckold” (1979, p. 120).  They found that for the cuckold insult “as a commonly used gesture, we found it restricted today largely to Portugal, Spain and Italy” (1979, p. 129).

This meaning of the gesture has particularly interesting ramifications with regard to gender roles in society, and even this highly gender-biased study finds itself looking at rape culture as a major factor in this gesture’s history.  For they deduced that “we are dealing with a gesture of declining popularity” (1979, p. 129), and in seeking out the reason for this decline they found themselves examining the relative seriousness of the crimes of adultery and of rape throughout history.  At a time when the objectification of women was much more overt in society, in that women were viewed more as property of men than as individuals, adultery was a much more heinous crime than rape.  “The reason for being more lenient with the rapist was that he had only stolen the woman’s body, while the adulterous seducer had stolen both her body and her mind.  This attitude is based on the theft of the husband’s property – his wife – rather than on any consideration of the woman’s feelings” (1979, p. 131).   The authors attribute the decline in use of this meaning of the gesture to a waning view toward women as property, resulting in lower stigmatism toward adulterers and greater stigmatism toward rapists.  Unfortunately, nearly 35 years after this book was published, women are still being objectified and we continue to live in a rape culture.

There are some areas where the gesture is used as simply a general insult, not specifically associated with cuckoldry.  The authors point out that, “This is rare… but we have included a map of it because there is one site – Yugoslavia – where it becomes the dominant meaning” (1979, p. 134).  The horizontal horn-sign has one additional minor meaning not present in the vertical gesture, in which “it is also employed as a savage threat, with the meaning ‘I will poke your eyes out’” (1979, p. 143), but this meaning seems to be restricted mainly to just northern France.

This book analyzes another seventeen gestures not addressed in this blog post, and I would be happy to answer any questions readers have about the origins or distributions of other gestures depicted in the illustration.  What gestures do you find yourself or your own students using?  How has the meaning of these gestures changed over time in nearly 35 years since this book was published?  Please feel free to comment on this post with your responses or questions of your own.

Also, if you have a book that you would like to see me discuss, please comment on the new Recommended Reading page.  Next month I will be discussing Daring to dream: Toward a pedagogy of the unfinished by Paulo Freire (2007).

References

Freire, P. (2007). Daring to dream: Toward a pedagogy of the unfinished. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Morris, D., P. Collet, P. Marsh, & M. O’Shaughnessy. (1979). Gestures: Their origins and distribution. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day.

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope – bell hooks

(en español)

Teaching Community - bell hooks 2003 “No one is born a racist.  Everyone makes a choice.  Many of us made the choice in childhood.”

-bell hooks, 2003, p. 53

Racism is an issue that permeates society, and, as much as teachers may wish to make them so, our classrooms are not immune to the effects of such a society.  In her book Teaching Community, bell hooks tells us that “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination” (2003, p. 36).  It is not enough to create classrooms in which we seek to avoid dominance, but rather we must create spaces in which to actively counteract questions of bias as they situate themselves within our environments.

Every classroom I have worked in has had varying degrees of diversity.  In all my years as a teacher I have never worked in a classroom in which all of the children had similar cultural upbringings.  I recall one primary school classroom in which, in addition to the four other languages spoken in the classroom there was one particular student who had recently emigrated from an eastern African nation and, unlike the other students, didn’t speak any English at the start of the school year.  As I struggled to learn his home language, he struggled to learn English and to cope with the drastic cultural and racial differences that existed between him and his diverse classmates.

These differences led to conflict, at one point even escalating to a physical brawl involving multiple children when another child made fun of his appearance.  hooks reveals that “this is a looks-oriented culture, from grade school on we know how much looks determine whether individuals will be treated justly, respectfully” (2003, p. 113).  Whether a child wears glasses, is a darker shade of brown, or happens to be a boy with long hair, without guidance children will find ways to ridicule and ostracize someone who does not conform to the dominant appearance within the classroom.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the way things have to be.  hooks indicates that “the presence of conflict is not necessarily negative but rather its meaning is determined by how we cope with that conflict” (2003, p. 64).  She suggests that teachers can create an alternative environment by promoting and modeling caring situations.  “The loving classroom is one in which students are taught, both by the presence and practice of the teacher, that critical exchange can take place without diminishing anyone’s spirit, that conflict can be resolved constructively” (2003, p. 135).

In order to be able to resolve those conflicts constructively, children, particularly younger children must feel that they are in a safe place.  They must feel that the classroom is a place where love is greater than anger.  hooks states that “Love can bridge the sense of otherness.  It takes practice to be vigilant, to beam that love out.  It takes work” (2003, p. 162).

This is something that I strive to do in my classroom.  I greet every student in the morning with a hug as they enter the classroom.  When a child is crying, whatever the reason, I make an effort to comfort them, even if the reason they are crying is because they had just gotten in trouble.  I don’t believe in using ‘time-outs’ or exclusion in general.  The only time I will remove a child from the group is when that child is demonstrating a desire to be removed.

I have heard it said by some teachers that the ‘time-out’ serves the purpose of allowing the child to be alone in order to calm down.  But I find that when a child is angry, a hug often serves a calming purpose to a much greater extent than the ‘time-out’ would.  While there are occasionally children who prefer to be alone at times, usually they prefer the hug to the isolation.  Even children with sensitivities to physical contact still tend to prefer the presence of another person to separation, and comforting gestures can take a form as simple as offering a hand to hold or a tissue to dry the tears.  This seems to me to be a very human reaction.  In classrooms where I have been able make this a regular practice, the children take up this mantle of caring, and will themselves go to offer comfort in the form of a hug or a tissue when they see another child in need, even if it is a child with whom they will at other times enter into conflict.

Starting from this place of caring, it then becomes possible to address conflict in differences from an open place.  As hooks says, “Caring educators open the mind, allowing students to embrace a world of knowing that is always subject to change and challenge” (2003, p. 92).  Children come to learn that, despite differences, all of us have commonalities, and that those differences can come to be celebrated.  They also learn to look beyond the physical differences to discover that we have differences in personality that are much more significant and make for a more engaging and interesting environment.  As bell hooks puts it,  “finding out what connects us, revelling [sic] in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community” (2003, p. 197)

I welcome and encourage comments and discussion on this post.  What ways do you bring love into your classrooms or life?  Do you feel that time-outs or hugs are an appropriate way to give children space to calm down, or is there another alternative?  What do you believe is the best way to help children look beyond physical differences and come to appreciate diversity?

If you have a book that you think would interest me and would like to see me discuss in this blog, please feel free to comment with your recommendation.  Based on a suggestion by a reader, next month I will be discussing Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution by Morris, Collett, Marsh, & O’Shaughnessy (1979).

References

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York, NY: Routledge.

Morris, D., P. Collett, P. Marsh & M. O’Shaughnessy. (1979). Gestures: their origins and distribution. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day.