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Debbie Evans' Reading Response #2:
After reading Rose's afterword, I understand what he was trying to do by mixing academic and narrative genres; however, it didn't work for me. I wanted to feel more for his life challenges, yet I really didn't care. I believe I would have gotten more out of the text if it were more academic.
I was able to relate to the middle sections somewhat. In fact, there are two sections of which I specifically made note. On page 141, Rose discusses his difficulty with "misplacing commas or blundering pronouns and verb forms or composing a twisted sentence," and asserts that even though he "had never gotten some of this stuff straight... [he] turned out okay." The concept that workbook exercises robs language and writing of its joy and focuses too much on failure hits home with me. I am working with high school freshmen right now who are eager to rise to my high expectations, but they are easily crushed. They are so anxious about being in over their collective heads that I have to continually demonstrate to them their brilliance. If I were grading a dull and minimally challenging workbook, I would be crushing their dreams as Rose asserted he believed with his veteran student body.
I also got a great deal out of the narrative (yes, I'm contradicting myself and my desire for academic texts) detailing the tutoring of Sgt David Gonzalez using the poem "Butch Weldy" by Edgar Lee Masters (149). Rose details the guidance he provides to the Sgt in his (successful) attempt to teach critical reading skills. Although I'm nearly certain the conversation is a general recollection rather than a transcription, it reads truthfully and naturally. I am struck by Rose's respectful nurturing of both young children and crusty and damaged warriors.
Until this reading, I was sheltered from the knowledge of education in an impoverished setting. I'm horrified that there is a different standard to which the affluent and the poor are taught. This book makes me want to find a district in which I can make a difference, and it makes me feel under-prepared to do exactly that. Right now, I'm struggling to stay ahead of the lesson plans for three subjects - and two of the subjects are prepared for me! How does a teacher fulfill the requirements of the state, the district, the campus, the department, and also find the time to read a file on each troubled student and question the thought process behind error? This is something I'm still struggling with...
/End Debbie Evans' response/
Boundary: a dividing line. The point where, when reached, distinguishes one from another. A way to determine who is “different.” A status that is set and, due to associations with the word, not expected to be passed.
This entire book is about boundaries and the ways being defined as “deficient” or “border-lined” or “remedial” or “basic” affects students and teachers in the public school system. I highly admire Rose’s research into this subject, but I do have to note that he looked only at a few tutoring places and some public school classrooms.
After reading the whole book, I find that Rose doesn’t offer any specific practical ways to help students (and teachers and administration workers who become blind to students’ potential) who have been labeled unhelpable (even if that isn’t what their label is called). Much can be learned from his personal experiences, though. His concentration can be summed up as one of “environment.” The environment a student lives and studies in greatly affects his or her ability to learn. Thus, tutoring seemed to work so well because it wasn’t a classroom environment and Rose was able to have more one-on-one time with students.
I have limited experience with “boundary” students, but this summer I did work with homeless children for a week at a writing camp. Rose’s methods were similar to my own at camp. Above all, the kids started to thrive when they had a personal connection.
If nothing else, the emphasis teachers must make is on potential. We can’t forget that a student’s potential should be changing as he progresses in his learning. The teacher sets the boundary (not only classroom procedures and rules, but also what she expects from her students) and must lead her students to it and encourage them to cross it. Or, as Rose says, “Students will float up to the mark you set” (26). Teachers must remain humble and open to new ideas. This means that they must come in with realistic expectations, not unrealistic ones. And not preconceived ones. We must stop using the word “fail” and concentrate more on positive change—progress—to show one’s learning. Words such as “fail” get imprinted into a student’s mind and starts a cycle unless prevented that can lead to the psychology belief that “fail” = “failure.” The fear of failure and the desire to be accepted and please someone else can become a vicious cycle. Succeeding in school needs to be more of an intrinsic value than an extrinsic. While I don’t see a way to turn away from the grading system, it creates the belief in children that A’s=good job, good person and F’s=bad job, bad person. I think I understand Rose’s explanation of this not only because of my own personal experience, but also because we appear to share a love of Maslow. His Hierarchy of Needs is always in my mind when dealing with “difficult” or “remedial” students. I have to always ask myself—What could be going on in this child’s life that is prohibiting learning?
Teachers must somehow create a desire, a love for learning. One way to do this is by example. Living their knowledge, as Rose calls it. This demonstration becomes a “set of tools” (58). Dorothy Sayers in “The Lost Tools of Learning” emphasizes a return to a classical tradition in teaching, which Rose seems to also encourage at the end of the book, though he doesn’t seem to define what classical learning is. If nothing else, classics are effective because they aren’t affected by current culture changes; “classics” are traditional and timeless. In short, teachers develop a way to learn that can be applied to any subject. Or, as Thomas Foster in How to Read Literature Like a Professor says, teachers show (not just tell) students how to hunt for mushrooms. Another image for this philosophy of teaching is that students are building a scaffold, and teachers must help them build.
Learning needs to be a challenge and thus exciting, though never entertaining. A new textbook or curriculum with the same methods isn’t challenging, it’s just new material. I like Rose’s emphasize on reading and writing to learn, especially “creative” writing. Students who “can’t” write usually just need practice and guidance. Students who “don’t like” writing usually just need to be given a different assignment. Students are people, and every person just wants to find a place in society. If nothing else, each student wants to find a place in your classroom. The quest for knowledge starts with a personal connection. And, personally, I think we need to steer away from a fear of failure toward a hope for progress.
Dawn Boeck - Reading Journal #2
Mike Rose’s Life on the Boundary opens up the world of a basic writer to me. I truly loved reading this book and making connections as a student, a scholar, and a teacher. As an individual who has never experienced the world of remedial writing or reading courses, I found it difficult at first to understand where many of these basic writers might be coming from. Rose’s personal narrative reminded me of my own experiences with math and Spanish classes, where I was pushed to the fringes and made to feel like a diseased outsider. Rose’s description of how a student feels when walking into a remedial class took me right back to my elementary, middle, high school, and even college experiences with math courses – I always felt like I was behind and continually falling further behind everyone else. I never stopped to consider that the problem might not lie entirely within myself. Rose explains that many remedial students “open their textbooks and see once again the familiar and impenetrable formulas and diagrams and terms that have stumped them for years” (31). The uncertainty grows slowly into defeat which then snowballs into a paralyzing fear and inability to continue past this point – a point that has already been labeled as “remedial,” and therefore, lesser. The end result usually comes with the student accepting his/her inability to do math – or writing, or reading, or anything academic. This perceived lack of ability seeps into a student’s psyche and has the potential to permanently and negatively affect a student’s desire to continue learning and, therefore, his/her ability to move past this point in his/her education. Rose emphasizes this by discussing the problematic nature of labeling students through assessments. So how do we change this? Rose offers some suggestions for how we can go about changing things through our own interactions with students, through our own perspectives, through the classes we teach, and through the schools we work in.
I related very personally to Rose’s narration of his experiences, growing from a student into a graduate student and then becoming a tutor and later a teacher. I feel conflicted as I grow through these roles as an individual. Rose explains that graduate study in one’s discipline requires “a tremendous amount of thought to the development of your discipline, to its methods, exemplary studies, and central texts” (196). In graduate school, you become so immersed in the discourse of your discipline that you begin to forget where you started and, even more importantly, how you arrived where you are. Rose explains that many scholars emerge from graduate studies as experts in their field, “but not necessarily as educators” (196). I find it difficult to find creative and effective ways to model knowledge and ways of learning for my students. I wonder if I am effectively communicating to them and if I am using all of the tools of my training to deliver a worthwhile composition course. I never imagined that I would feel so uncertain teaching something that I have worked so diligently to become a scholar in – composition.
I couldn’t help but continually connect Rose’s experiences and advice to our emphasis on discourse communities in the First Year Learning Communities program. I have been working with my students to help them understand what a discourse community is, what its characteristics are, and how they are each a part of multiple and sometimes conflicting discourse communities. We emphasize the importance of understanding what a discourse community is and how it works in order to teach students how to navigate these new surroundings throughout their academic experiences. Rose discusses multiple student experiences (as well as his own) as they come into contact with new discourse communities and attempt to learn how to navigate and master them. He describes his students as “strangers in a strange land” when they first enter into these new communities, uncertain of their surroundings and even more uncertain of their new and expected role (142). He mentions that it is easy to forget that we, as fledgling academics, were once sitting in those same chairs, uncertain of our own place in these academic surroundings. Rose focuses on the importance of offering students a safe place as they become acclimated to their new surroundings – much like a traveler in a foreign country. One of the most valuable points I gained from this book is that as students learn the language of the academy and how to effectively engage in its discussions, they will make errors. While I understood the complexity of error and its relation to a student’s learning process, I had never considered its connection to student growth during initiation into a new discourse community. Perhaps this is something that we should emphasize to our students – that mistakes are just part of the learning process, so just go with it. It is important that we, as educators, remember that education has both a social and intellectual component that can work together in order to create success. Rose’s own experiences with teachers who took the time to care influenced his own decisions to reach out to students beyond just the academic level and attempt to understand them on a more social and individual level.
I found Rose’s discussion of the system of American meritocracy to be both passionate and thought provoking. Rose states that “American meritocracy is validated and sustained by the deep-rooted belief in equal opportunity” (128). He goes on to state and illustrate through his own interactions with students that this equal opportunity within education is a false assumption. Many students are not given equal educational opportunities because of their participation (or lack thereof) in their elementary education. At a very young age, students are evaluated, judged, and categorized. These judgments have an immediate effect on the type of education a student will receive as well as a student’s perceived ability. Considering the handful of students Rose discusses and their experiences, it can be observed that many students are slipping between the bureaucratic cracks of our country’s education system. Our country’s focus on assessment, steady upward movement, and categorization has created a system of students who are their own “institutional gatekeepers” (128). I find this to be a very disturbing thought as I have come to understand education as a contradictory site for both empowerment and continued categorization and social stratification. I know that in teaching students, I can work to empower them with knowledge, but this same power can also segregate and further stratify the diverse populations that we teach. Rose explains this harsh realization as “the conflict between two visions: one of individual possibility and one of environmental limits and determiners” (114). Rose’s overarching message in this book is that higher education as a whole needs to take a more democratic and pluralistic view toward the educational mark that it is asking its students to rise to. The center that the university has traditionally attempted to create and hold promotes an ideal of “cultural unanimity,” a fictive and reductive view of society – especially the highly diverse and complex society of the U.S. Rose argues that America’s diverse culture demands a democratic, dialogic, and dynamic approach to education.
I know, I know... TL;DR... I'm sorry for rambling... I really enjoyed this book -Dawn Boeck
Eda's Reading Response:
Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary is a really book different among the works in its field. I mean most of the times, when we read a book or an article about pedagogies of teaching writing, reading, critical thinking, analyzing, we mostly read academic works full of fancy, long, and obscure sentences. Well, these kind of works make me confused more than I already am about reaching kinds coming from different cultural backgrounds, kids speaking different languages at their homes, kids who have huge responsibilities than I am. All those academically perfect works focus on theory, and they explain it perfectly, but they cannot present a solution, an answer, since they ignore the most important element which is the key of the answer they look for: students. This is why, Rose’s works got my attention from the very first page, since it is a book presenting different teaching methods with examples from the real life. What I really found fascinating about Rose’s work is his openness about his journey as a student, as a writer, as a teacher. His life consists of landmarks which changed him slowly, and this change is not just about the change in his character; this is a change in his writing, reading, and thinking. He basically depicts his process of learning ‘how to write, read, and think’ by applying his own life experiences, presenting examples from his memories; in this way, he makes his point more reliable for the readers, since he does not just talk about theories, or suggestions about ‘how we should teach writing’, he also talks about ‘how he learned to write’. As far as I am concerned, this is what matters for the readers seeking for answer for their own kids, students, or themselves. The whole book is a story about how Mike learned to write, read, and think critically, and how he learned teach others to write, read, and think critically. I mean, in addition to his own improvement as a student, we also see his improvement as a teacher which is something neat for the readers. From this perspective, this book can be divided into two parts: Mike’s journey as a student, and Mike’s journey as a teacher. In the first part, he learned to write, read, analyze the text, engage with the text critically, using language correctly etc. At the second part, he learned how to teach what he learned as a student to other students. The huge connection between those parts is the connection he made himself between his experiences. You can feel the affect of his teachers, Mr.Macfarland, Mr.Jonhson, Dr.Carothers etc., on his experience of teaching. Basically, he learns how to be a good writer, good reader, good student, and when it comes to teach the same things to other students like him, he does not forget the fact that once upon a time he was one of his students; he was Harold, or Tranquilino. The vital part is this: he became a good teacher, instructor for his students by being a student, and he proved the fact that writing, thinking critically, analyzing the texts can be taught to students, since he is one of those students.
Note: I have no idea about why my response looks like this.
End of Eda's response
Caleb's Response to Mike Rose
I read Mike Rose’s book Lives on the Boundary for a Community Service Learning course with Dr. Etheridge, but after reading it for the second time, I couldn’t help but appreciate the intricate agenda Rose weaves with each chapter. The wind in Rose’s sails is the need to eradicate current basic writing policy and instruction, which in many ways seems to be at the root of America’s education issues.
I appreciated how Rose outlines his primary issues in the first chapter, as his prognosis on the issues relegates the reasoning behind the rest of his text. Rose outlines the policies and history that brought the ‘Back to the Basics Movement’ into effect, as American educators and administrators deemed American students as a largely insufficient and illiterate group. Although Rose doesn’t challenge the necessity of examining the economic and social conditions within education, he does have a problem with framing “our indictments in terms of decline, a harsh, laced-with-doom assault”, as insisting that our current educational standards do not meet or exceed the supposed perfection of past standards we lose “the historical and social realities of American education” (7). Basically, Rose is not a fan of labeling students as remedial, or punishing students who do not measure up to a false reality of success, but rather better understanding the social and cultural conditions that students exist within. Although the education system and our society as a whole clings to the notion of equality, there is hardly anything equal within education, as many of the students on the boundaries of literacy come from rough backgrounds, varying cultures, or racial minorities. Instead of building these students up, the system has worn them down with insulting labels and emphasis on grammar, while ignoring the intelligence and knowledge that they hide right beneath the surface.
Rose outlined the cynical cycle of the education system best through the narratives on his professional experiences. I was struck speechless by the candid response offered by the fourth grade student, who told Rose that he “used to be in the dumb math group, but then, um, [his] teacher found out it was too easy for [him]” (91). As Rose outlines, the remedial label comes with many self labels that students begin asserting on themselves at an early age. Remedial and stupid mean the same thing to younger children, and once this distinction has been made, it seems almost impossible to shake off.
The account of Vietnam veteran Willie Oates was also very interesting, and offered even more support for the primary issues posed by basic writing policies. After being released from the service Willie found himself back in his poverty stricken neighborhood, and eventually succumbed to stealing “some money and a car to try to rip away from the projects and pool halls and indolent streets” (147). Under all the negatives from Willie’s situation existed a man who was dreaming to better himself, yet didn’t have the proper tools to do so. I think Willies situation showed a very important aspect about the American education system and American culture, as we are quick to disregard those we find to be insufficient members of society/schools, yet we rarely take the time to understand the cultures and hardships these students come from.
While the back to the basics movement reinforced the need for traditional teaching practices in basic writing classes, I applauded Rose for his initial teaching stance, adopting a more process oriented role that denied the idea that “composing a twisted sentence indicated arrest at some cognitive-linguistic stage of development”, and instead fostered the notion that remedial programs “aim too low” for the “bigger dreams” his students had (141). I also applauded Rose’s technique for correcting grammar errors in student writing. While helping Suzette fix her paper, Rose determined that her issues arose from trying to make her paper fit the conventions of college writing. Although she had grammatical errors, Suzette was using higher order thinking while writing, which displays the true cognitive abilities most student writers possess when fostered and not discouraged.
Most of all, I appreciated the honesty Rose employed while discussing these difficult issues, as well as the respect that he pays to his students, both in the classroom and within his own writing. Oftentimes when someone is so immersed in an issue the way Rose is, they can often come with a tainted or privileged view of the situation, overshadowing the larger issues at stake. I think that Rose presents the educational debacle from a very unbiased and informed perspective, noting that educating people can be a double edged sword, determining that education can be summed up as a battle between “two visions: one of individual possibility and one of environmental limits and determiners” (114). As teachers we must look at the potential in each student, as well as the individualized circumstances that make up their lives in an attempt to foster intellectual stimulation and growth; however, even with our best efforts as teachers, we can still deter students through limiting academic labels, emphasis on error, and disregard for individuality.
I think I should stop now, otherwise I could write another two pages about Rose and his many experiences and ideas. Overall, I thought the text was both informative and helpful, and really opened my eyes to the conditions basic writers evolve from.
End of Caleb's Response
Samantha's Response to Rose
I liked Rose’s narrative approach to the issues he was discussing. The personal touches really made the points come full circle for me because they showed how struggles are everywhere in everyone’s lives, but they don’t define who you are or who you’ll become. Rose came out of a vocational school that was geared towards readying students for the workforce and made it to college with the push and motivation from Mr. MacFarland?.
I wanted to start this journal of with a problem I am seeing; I’m not sure were the problem lie, or if it is even really a problem. Mike Rose begins his book with discussion about the different aspects of the literacy crisis that rears its ugly head throughout history. But Rose makes an important point after given some statistics about the growth of the educational system, “IS this an educational system on the decline, or is it a system attempting to honor – through wrenching change – the many demands of a pluralistic democracy?”(7). These changes are inevitable. Literacy’s definition/understanding today is not even close to what it was during Adam Sherman Hill’s reign at Harvard. The changes to the understanding of literacy and the educational system itself have far surpassed the assessment of the two. So how can there still be such an emphasis on the correctness of literacy and discourse, if there is not even a consensus throughout the system as to the “right” way to evaluate the two concepts? We have been discussing literacy/literate/mutliliteracies in my 1301 classes, and I had a group stand up and make a very bold statement: “No one in this world is illiterate.” It blew me away. I asked them to explain their statement, and they said that if literacy has grown beyond the boundaries of reading and writing into territory of new media, social networks, video games, etc. then doesn’t this new territory include old technology just the same. In other words, if someone can be literate in how to use facebook, xbox games, etc. then isn’t it true that someone can be literate in how to use a plow, cave drawings, and cave man grunting?
Their examples were hard for me grasp, and I countered with the idea that in order to use media (internet, newspaper, etc.), facebook, and the like, we still have to understand certain means of communication like reading and writing. They refuted that there had to be understandings between our ancestors who didn’t use the same English language as us. They had to communicate the use of simple machines some way. And their means of communication were successful because we know and understand those machines today, and we’ve modified and advanced them to become the technology we are dependent on today.
So, if my freshman English students are able to complex this idea of literacy even further than I had initially intended them too, how is it that I still find composition god, Mike Rose, still discussing “the truly illiterate among us” (3)--[I think he was making a point that those marked "illiterate" were not illiterate at all-Chimene']. I understand that there are standards that have to be meet at all levels of education, and I am not suggesting that all students who show up to class really know what is going on and that they should be passed for just showing up. I am just worried that I’ve let my students take their understanding of literacy/literate too far and done them a disservice, or I am worried that no matter how hard I try to keep up (Mike Rose is a brilliant name in our discipline and I respect his work), one day I’ll be fall behind the pace of understanding what students need from me.
Later in the book it becomes clear that Rose has a great disdain for “remedial” labeled classes that make students automatically feel unsuccessful (which makes it even more confusing as to why he would use a phrase right out of the gate): “The remedial program we knew about did a disservice to their student by thinking of them as ‘‘remedial’’ We wanted to try out another perspective and see what kind of program it would yield. What would happen if we thought of our students’ needs and goals in light of the comprehensive and ambitious program structures more often reserved for the elite?” (194). This is the kind of thinking that gets me excited about teaching. Rose mentions earlier in the text (I couldn’t find the exact quote) that students are going to reach the bar you set for them; so why not set the bar high and have them pass all the previous bars that were traditionally set in place for them? This is another similarity that I see in teaching this year: we are assigning readings that would have never been expected of freshman English students. And so far, they are responding well to the information and ideas (sure there is a lot of groaning and complaining, but once you see the light bulb switch on, you see the joy in their eyes because they are learning!).
Another section I related to was the discussion of graduate school; this quote resonated with me to the core “Graduate study forces you to give a tremendous amount of thought to the development of your discipline, to its methods, exemplary studies, and central texts. People emerge from graduate study…as political scientists or astronomers…but not necessarily educators” (Rose 196). This is so true. Having a mother who taught for 22 years and became a principal after getting her M.A., I always said I would never teach. I never wanted to put up with the discipline and the “baby sitting” that I saw her go through. But discovering my passion for learning is what brought me to want to try to teach. My thought process was, “if I like to learn, and I learn this information without great difficulty (trust me, there is difficult moments), then why not see if I can help people learn the way I do.” So I am trying it out, and I guess we’ll see how it all turns out at the end of the semester/school year. But I definitely never intended to develop into an educator from graduate school!
I’ll quit blabbering away now! :)
End of Samantha's Response
Clare Reeves' Response to Mike Rose
The text, Lives on the Boundary, hit me on two levels: one as a student and the other as a hopeful teacher. As I read, I found myself noting quotes that functioned, sometimes, for a single side but, frequently, these words crossed the boundaries of student/ teacher to interact with my cognitive self. I found as I read that there were hidden nuggets of learning for my teaching self and hidden reassurances for my student self wrapped up in stories and common sense explanations. One of the most memorable topics Rose discusses is the idea of remedial classes as reminders of past failures (31). I asked myself if I ever felt that way and realized that I still do. I am good at statistics. I feel strange saying that, but I am. Yet, I still dislike and fear “math.” I still reside in that internal space that blames a personal failure on my inability to function mathematically (31). I know that, with statistics, I can plug in numbers and read results and do well. Algebra is a demon. There in a nutshell is one of Rose’s boundaries. Looking at the other side of this line, I also see the “cynical grade collector” that I became because of my own perceived failures (34).
I also noted in the early chapters the idea of “breathing prose” and “hearing the language” that the writer generates (55). This shifted my thoughts to the previous reading for this class and the description and usage of “voice” in the writing process (NCTE "Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing"). These theories and discussions seem to merge to flesh out the need for vocalization in the writing process. This applies not only to working through the process but also to pushing that process through your own personal vocal folds. The idea of personal voice has never been more organic for me than in this reading.
Rose speaks throughout of recognizing errors as indicators of growth (151, 188), kids checking out as they are labeled inadequate by grades (177), and shifting perceptions and conceptions of tasks (220), which are all very important concepts to internalize and use both as a student and an educator, but the two major ideas of voice/ linguistic expression and finding personal fault in my own abilities, or lack thereof, are the big points that I will take from this reading.
--I forced myself not to comment on all the quotes that I copied from the text to apply later in my teaching and discussions, but it was difficult. I am extremely enamored with this book and the author's points.
Kerryann Kohut's post on Mike Rose
Lives on the Boundary really touched on some ideas and frustrations that I have been struggling with since I began teaching, but most especially this school year. I really enjoyed the vignettes as much as the statistical analysis of the ever-changing, yet always the same, problems that our students bring with them to our classrooms. Many of my charges are boundary students and so the section describing Harold and his struggles to fit into a system that he may not even be aware has shunned him, was heart-breaking. I have felt alternately sad at the lack of long-term help I can realistically give such a student whom I only teach for one school year, and angry with myself for not doing more than what I am physically and mentally capable of doing to change that child into a life-long learner. Where should my responsibility end and another’s begin? Should it never end? I agree with what Rose is saying about skills needing to be taught in context and not in an isolated vacuum. Only when the information is taken to the higher levels of thinking and manipulated in a meaningful way will it be truly mastered. I can circle a verb in a sentence, but can I use a verb correctly in regards to tense and number? Potentially not. We are such a test-obsessed culture that the information we strive for is the flat objective kind that can be synthesized into tricky test questions. Then we are not only testing skills that don’t translate into real world experience with reading and writing, but we are testing multiple-choice test strategies as much as knowledge. Thinking about the book overall, I see Rose making one main point for me that was developed over three distinct sections of the reading. The first section dealt with his personal experiences and history that he carried on his back into every classroom. The burden got bigger and heavier, and Rose struggled more and more under its weight, but his teachers continued not to act in a way that was conducive to helping him release it. The second section involved his adventures and discoveries in the field of education, starting with the Teacher Corps and ending with his work with the Vietnam veterans. Over many years Rose developed a workable curriculum that challenged and had continuity; making it more critical in thought and relevant to life. Finally, the third section described Roses’s work back at UCLA and the problems he struggled with mirrored in the poor grades and low self-worth of a new generation of boundary students there. For me this triptych of Rose’s educational experiences says that we as a society keep striving to raise the bar, but we have less and less concern for the outside forces that more and more color our students’ motivations and abilities. When will these two areas of significant influence, testing and student motivation, meet? From my personal experiences they may never do so. Advocates for either side are moving away from the opposition versus toward it to find common ground. The people suffering the most are the students who must learn more in a smaller amount of time to be tested by an impersonal multiple-choice device versus demonstrating skills and critical-thinking in a realistic way. Rose answered the challenges he faced by always striving for something more motivating or inspiring or significant. He never stopped changing and continued his pursuit of answers and better methods for academic success. For me this brought up a point that is presupposed but never really touched on: success only comes with dedication from the teacher and the student. I can beg, plead, gnash my teeth, or do a gymnastics routine to motivate my students. My efforts are for naught, however, if they are met with resentment or indifference. Again, where should my responsibility end and another’s begin? I suspect that this answer would involve more vignettes and statistical analysis than one chapter of this book could have held. Actually, for me, any point I am pondering about this book brings up even more questions and considerations. I say about teaching 7th graders English that I love it! -but they can make me feel so young or they can make me feel so old. This book did the same thing to me.
Krystal Glisson Watson Reply 2
Before I get into teacher mode, I enjoyed Mike Rose's book. Specifically, I appreciated the narrative aspect of the book. It helped to highlight the purpose / reason for his ideology, and it was entertaining. I have finally accepted that the problems with our educational system transcend time and place. They are the same problems that have plagued educational systems for centuries across cultures and across grade levels. Entering teacher mode:
The further I get into this degree, the better teacher I become. Every semester, I read countless articles and quotes that make me feel like shouting from the mountain top, "Yes! That's genius." Before, when I told my students that knowledge is power, I delivered the message tritely. Now, when I tell my students that knowledge is power, I feel the deeper conviction in my belief, and, as with everything, so do the students. Along with the knowledge gives you power spiel, I also tell my students that it goes against human nature to fail. We are not wired that way. As human beings, we are wired to better ourselves and to grow. If they fail, there is a missing or a weak link somewhere. If the majority of a class fails, the weak link is the teacher. If only a few students fail, then maybe it was the content. I read something in chapter one that resonated within me throughout the other chapters and still resonates within me at this moment; it is something I will share with students and other teachers.
Mike Rose writes, in chapter one, "Every day in our schools and colleges, young people confront reading and writing tasks that seem hard or unusual, that confuse them, that they fail. But if you get close enough to their failure, you'll find knowledge that the assignment didn't tap, ineffective rules and strategies that have a logic of their own; you'll find clues, as well to the complex ties between literacy and culture, to the tremendous difficulties our children face as they attempt to find their places in the American educational system" (8). "[I]f you get close enough to their failure, you'll find knowledge that the assignment didn't tap...!" I feel that this quote can be applied to the entire system, not just one course or lesson.
While reading Rose's book this weekend, an ex-student of mine kept surfacing. My classroom is next door to In School Suspension (ISS). This is where students go when they are roaming the halls or out of dress code or belligerent with an adult or caught with a cell phone or a plethora of other reasons. It is the most incredible waste of time for the students who sit in there because that is all they do. (Teachers send lessons, but there is not enforcement.) This week is the beginning of the third week of school. Every day last week, I saw one of my best students from last year in ISS. He has a brother who, one day last year, asked me if I liked my student. I replied, "Of course. He is wonderful, polite, and smart." My student smiled sheepishly and his brother made a rude comment about how my student wasn't smart, he was just a butt kisser. My ex-student is smart. He is tatted up and dresses in hand me downs or stolen clothes. If you saw him on the streets, you would clutch your purse and walk the other way. But he is smart. He easily maintained a high B in my English 2 PreAP? class. His writing is raw and real and honest. He is talented and good looking and rooted in the streets. It is very easy for some of my students, including this student, to fast forward the clock: to skip high school, sell drugs or other things, and make more money today than if they work hard and wait.
I stopped my ex-student last week in the hall and asked him what was going on. He said, "I don't want to be here." He asked me if I taught English 3; I smiled and replied that I would love to have him as student again, but that it is healthy to learn about the world from a different perspective. It was not what he wanted to hear. It was not what I should have said. We talked a little longer, and I ended the conversation by telling him that I was worried about him because I could see his potential; I am worried that he will not live up to his potential. He repeated, "I just don't want to be here." I haven't seen him this week.
School is not tapping into this student. As Rose discusses, the idea of equal education opportunities is wonderful, but it will never be. It will never be because it is a different playing field from one section of the city to the next and from one section of the country to the next. It is different on the financial playing field, the technological playing field, and the pedagogical playing field. There are a lot teachers who care, but there are, also, droves of teachers that still use worksheets and who don't (really) care. It is an unfortunate fact that it only takes one to turn a student "off." This book hit the bull’s eye on many topics: testing, tutoring, class demographics, low expectations, etc. They all ring true when considering the underserved population of students who survive under the radar and who squeak through public education. Each student should be considered based on what they are bringing to the table instead of what they are lacking. It is as futile an attempt as expecting students to learn how to write better by filling out grammar worksheets in an expendable workbook. If a student is good at drawing, have the student tell their story through images and then work on the words he or she needs to tell the story. (This is a magical trick with ESL students. One last story…I had an ESL student from Mexico who exhibited the traditional ESL mistakes in his writing. When I asked him to draw out his ideas, he performed without hesitation and without fear. I realized, then, that it was his fear of choosing the wrong English word that was holding him back. When his drawing was complete, he told me the story orally and I wrote the words. When he read what I had transcribed for him, his eyes lit up with confidence. It was my handwriting, but they were his words.)
It is human nature to not want to fail, and it is, also, human nature to feel valued. It is this sense of value and esteem that I attribute to beginning writers fear and block. If we can tap into the students and help them find that sense of self-worth, their writing will blossom.
Krystal Glisson (Watson)
I like the narrative style of the text. It's not didactic, there are many aspects to educating people that may not immediately come to mind. Rose presents these aspects in narrative form which allows the reader to engage into a situation and apply your own response Like the instructor who opens up the students to a new world of language. Rose is relatable. He allows his audience to initiate the actions and responses that come from within each individual. There are many reactions that can come from a single situation. But each reaction can be influenced by the social environment, if the person chooses.
For instance, Rose presents the scenario with Jack McFarland?. McFarland? did not impede the instruction and, more importantly, the learning that can be had by students only if instructors open up their minds and their hearts to students. Instructors do not need perpetuate the perception of the academic authoritarian. Rose displays the scenario in a way that draws teachers and instructors in and shows them a different path to a different ending, a better ending, for students. Teachers are suppose to help students, not hinder or oppress their development. Instructors should cultivate an environment of literacy to students. Rose shows this experience as he writes, “Jack McFarland? established a literacy club, to borrow a phrase of Frank Smith’s, and invited me – invited all of us – to join” (34).
It is interesting though how Rose can elicit multiple responses or reactions from one situation. Cold, street-tough Terry comes to mind. The depiction of how Terry helped a retarded girl play basketball was a mindblower for me. Rose writes, Terry’s “heart was found by someone more vulnerable than he was” (113). Compassion and empathy can give hope and expression to the downtrodden. This situation can be seen as an analogy of the student teacher relationship. Teachers can sometimes be inclined not to help the dregs of society for various reasons. The student can be viewed as not worth the time. But this is only one perspective of the cold, tough-draw Terry.
Rose establishes that instructors must be aware of the social implications students carry with them into the classroom. There is no one single form or standard to instruct writing and literacy to students. Societal influence should not be a detriment to a student’s ability to express themselves in any form, writing being one of the mediums.
chimene's response to Rose
Reading Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose, I started thinking about the concept of the basic writer and what it means to be a basic writer. If it means feeling tongue-tied (or rather brain-tied) when you write, then I was a candidate for the moniker, basic writer. Working from my own uneasiness with the writing process, I came up with this definition: a basic writer is someone who lacks fluency in written discourse. Included in this definition is the idea that a basic writer is someone who can write but only does so in a limited capacity. This limited capacity manifests itself in many ways.
Strangely, what springs to mind as a good sample piece of basic writing is the sad murder/suicide note found in the Hardy novel, Jude the Obscure, which reads “Done because we are too menny.” I read this novel long ago but that note with its directness, its simplicity, and its tragedy has always stayed with me.
The missing subject to the sentence and the misspelled word did not detract from the meaning of sentence. In fact they served to enhance the meaning. Historically, the focus of writing instruction and remediation has attempted to broaden students’ skill base and writing capacity by eradicating errors. More on errors later.
Back to basic writers. If I narrow my definition, I come up with another version which reads – In an academic setting, a basic writer is someone who starts most every writing endeavor with a deficit of experience and meaningful context to draw upon to generate written work. Basically, a basic writer starts in a hole. How the basic writer got to this place, the hole, is an important question in the conversations about teaching, learning, and education. Mike Rose vividly chronicles how these holes are created in the opening chapters of his book with personal anecdotes from his life as student on the margin and as a teacher of at risk students. It is apparent that his upbringing on 9116 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, California uniquely prepared him to be good teacher and tutor to the people who were fortunate to cross his path. My inquiry project for CBWP summer institute dealt with how to effect institutional culture change concerning attitudes about writing and the teaching of writing. So, every time I ran across Rose’s take on educational institutions, I read with great interest. My own observation about institutions is that institutions by their very nature are large and unwieldy creatures slow to move, slow to change and not well-equipped to respond to nuances. Rose writes, “The curriculum in Developmental English breeds a deep social and intellectual isolation from print”(p. 211) and “Research universities are awful places for freshmen to be adrift.” (p. 204). Rose also writes that higher education institutions look upon a research as “the coin of realm” and the business of teaching its students a sloppy second and the business of remediating for the “underprepared” many unsavory rungs down on the ladder of importance. So, I find this idea of institutional culture change very interesting. It seems to me that a step in the right direction is looking at how to better teach writing to all types of learners and to raise awareness that writing is a foundational literacy skill that deserves more attention and time than it is getting.
Mike Brown Reading Response #2
The author of Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose, begins his accounting of the American education system by stating that this book is one of hope for those who are struggling in the American education system. In the book, Rose illustrates many examples of the language and cultural barriers students face on a daily basis. He also reveals his experiences with school students and even high school graduates who cannot read or write at an adequate level. As a result of the difficulties these students face, many of the students are branded as remedial and placed in special classes, regardless of whatever the reasons are for why they cannot read and write at a predetermined level. This is a stigma the students will bear throughout their years of school and even later into the adult lives.
One of the sections that stood out to me in the book was the section where Rose discusses his work with the veterans. In discussing his work with the Veteran's Program and specifically his students, Rose offers, "The students possessed long and complex life histories, and they were trying to reclaim a place in the classroom they once lost or never had" (146). To me, this could describe not just the military veterans, but also any students whose home life is difficult, and also feels like their school education is slipping right past them.
While I was in the military, it was easy to identify the guys I worked with who had a successful educational background from their high school and those who just made it by the skin of their teeth. The job I performed in the military included a decent amount of writing, anywhere from evaluations, discrepancy reports, disciplinary writings, to technical manual writings and corrections. Furthermore, the specific job I performed required the ability to read technical manuals for specific troubleshooting steps and also reading and deciphering complex electrical schematics. Some of the guys who worked for me could do it, others struggled.
One of the main themes I got from reading through this book was to not judge a book by its cover. I will be the first one to admit that I have a tendency to judge someone at the time of the first meeting. This is a trait that I am actively trying to stop using. The problem of placing a student in a certain category is that it is hard for the student to escape from the label that has been placed on him or her.