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Imagination, Exploration and Transformation:

Critical Pedagogy and Curricular Development

Through a Study of 7th Graders in the South Bronx

Matthew Neill Fuerst Block

Dr. Frank Pignatelli
Noah Green
Deborah Kim
Michael Klein

Integrative Master’s Project

Submitted in Accordance With the Requirements of
Bank Street College of Education
Spring, 2009
Part I: Introduction

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to live in Cuba for several months. I was a

Junior in college, and through my experiences and studies in the field of education, I had

come to recognize the pernicious inequities in American public education. I decided to

go to Cuba to research and write about the nation’s public education system, which I

understood was founded upon the principles of universal literacy and Paulo Freire’s

revolutionary Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While in Cuba, I came to see that while the

Cuban educational ideals were liberatory and egalitarian, the achievement of those ideals

was flawed, at best. Though my access to Cuban schools was somewhat limited given

the political relationship between the United States and Cuba, in each class that I visited,

I observed a drive towards conformity to an imposed standard of thinking. I wrote, in my

analysis of these classes,

“Mientras el hombre nuevo de Cuba está desarrollando y haciendo sus propias decisiones
y su propio pensamiento, observé una conformidad que me sorprendió. La maestra
preguntó varias veces a los estudiantes de octavo grado sobre la paz, relaciones
internacionales, y valores básicos. Algunas de las respuestas fueron escritas y otras
fueron más informales, pero casi todas tenían algo que ver con el imperialismo y el
sistema estadounidense. Los estudiantes de doce, trece y catorce años repitieron varias
veces cosas contra los Estados Unidos en cuales fue obvio que no habían pensado mucho.
En las respuestas que no mencionaron el imperialismo la maestra recomendó, o más,
exigió que los estudiantes re-escribir sus respuestas y cuando las hicieron otra vez,
hablaron sobre el imperialismo.”1

Since my observations and analysis of Cuban education, I have attempted to discern a

process of education that better approximates the core tenets of Freire’s pedagogy, and

more completely empowers students as individuals, and as members of a community.

Upon returning to the United States, I began teaching in various capacities. After

School for International Training, Independent Study Project, 2004. “While the New Man of Cuba
develops and makes up his own decisions and his own mind, I saw a conformity that surprised me. The
teacher asked the 8th grade students several times about peace, international relations, and foundational
values. Some of the students’ responses were written and others were less formal, but almost all of them
addressed the topic of American imperialism. The students of twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old
repeated several comments against the U.S. in ways that made it obvious they were not fully thought
through. In the answers that were given that did not mention imperialism, the teacher demanded that the
students rewrite their answers, and when they did, they wrote about imperialism.”

graduating college, for the past four years, I have taught in schools in the low-income,

underserved communities of Chester, PA, Brooklyn, Harlem, and the South Bronx.

Throughout the past three years, I have also attended Bank Street College of Education,

where I have focused my studies upon understanding the developmental processes of

young people, and the kinds of individual and collective interpretations and actions of

which they are capable at distinct ages and in distinct contexts. This work has led me to

rediscover Critical Pedagogy as a philosophy of education rooted in the formation of

“empowered, learned, highly skilled democratic citizens who have the confidence and the

savvy to improve their own lives and to make their communities more vibrant places in

which to live, work, and play” (Kincheloe, p. 8) At its foundation, Critical Pedagogy is

the philosophy of education that recognizes and “affirms men and women as beings in the

process of becoming- as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise

unfinished reality” (Freire, p. 84). This philosophy not only accounts for, but inherently

aligns with research in developmental and cognitive psychology that shows distinct

capacities of logical reasoning, symbolic functioning, and collective identification as

individuals mature into adulthood.

In order for human beings to become empowered, for us to interpret the obstacles

to the achievement of our goals, and strive towards overcoming those obstacles, we must

undergo a process of developing a critical consciousness, what Freire calls

“conscientização.” This development of critical consciousness, a consciousness that

allows one to be aware not only of his or her surroundings, but also meta-aware of him or

herself, is a process deeply rooted in guided-experience and reflection. It is through this

process that individuals can acquire a personal and collective agency to determine the

avenues for action that most closely align with their intended outcomes. This notion of a

critical consciousness was developed by Freire as the goal of a critical pedagogy, and has

since been described and discussed by several critical theorists and educators. “[Banking

education] attempts to maintain the submersion of consciousness; [problem-posing

education] strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality”

(Freire, p. 81). It is this process of emerging consciousness and critical intervention that I

sought to understand through the study of a class of seventh grade students in the South


While critical theorists and educators have clearly illuminated the alienation that

young people experience, especially with regard to issues of race, class, gender, sexuality,

national origin, and other matters of personal and collective identity, and the values that

must be explicit in a process of critical education, I have found only a few instances in

which authors have described the processes that a critical educator must be prepared to

facilitate for students in order to develop a critical consciousness and critical intervention

in unjust and oppressive environments. As a result, I posed the following questions in

this case study:

1. Why must the process of empowerment be an educational process?

2. How can a curricular process be designed and implemented in which students
can share their individual stories, develop a collective mission, and carry out a
project of collective action?
3. What are the skills, understandings, and relationships that an educator must have
in order to facilitate this process for students?

These questions are rooted in the values and recognitions of Critical Pedagogy.

The first question, that which aligns education with empowerment, is necessary in order

to focus the lens of empowerment on a recognition of human development as an ongoing

emergence of the potential to build relationships, understandings, and power. If educators

are attentive to young people’s development, and design experiences that both reinforce

and expand their thinking, individuals will come to identify with themselves, each other,

and even with those who inhabit distant places that lie beyond our physical boundaries. It

is this attentive and empowering educational process which, in a modern society, must be

reflected in the organization of the classroom as the primary, formal educational context.

As educators, we must recognize that everyone has power and anyone can learn to

exercise it more effectively to achieve their goals. Furthermore, in a democratic society,

the process of learning to have and exercise power must be equitably distributed through

institutions and resources that are publicly regulated and allocated.

The second question, that which addresses curriculum development, is based in

the recognition that education is both an individual and collective process. Because

individuals and groups exercise power in every action we take, it is essential that we

grow to understand and align our actions to our personal and collective needs, desires,

and goals. While power is something that we exercise habitually, the factors that we take

into account in exercising power change as we develop. When two individuals create a

mutually beneficial relationship, they are more likely to see the other as a factor in the

determination of the kind of power that they exercise. Whereas they may have previously

acted in ways that were detrimental to one another, (whether consciously or

unconsciously,) each person is now more likely to take into account the needs of the other

in their actions and interactions. Because the cultivation of relationships and mutual

understandings is intimately linked to the way in which power is exercised, it is essential

that any process of individual and collective empowerment be anchored in a process of

development, rather than a set of stagnant understandings or dispositions. Furthermore,

because individuals learn through experience, it is crucial that this process of

development represents a continuous cycle, with each iteration of the cycle beginning and

ending with experience. Thus, a critical educational process recognizes individuals as

independent agents in the possession and expression of their own needs, the development

of relationships to see those needs more broadly and inclusively, and the active

participation in the achievement of goals that meet those needs.

The final question is that which recognizes the role of educator as facilitator who,

in accordance with certain understandings and abilities, will be more or less likely to

plan, organize, and facilitate a process by which students are individually and collectively

empowered. Since empowerment, in this context, is defined as a process by which

individuals come to recognize the effects of power as it achieves (or hinders the

achievement of) individual and collective goals, the facilitator must be able to provide

experiences and opportunities for reflection that allow students to exercise, reflect upon,

and understand the effects of power.

The curriculum that I designed for the particular group of students with whom I

worked was emergent, responding to the goals and needs that students articulated and

those that I observed, rather than prescriptive from the outset. I attempted, at all

moments, to design the curriculum in accordance with the values, principles, and

understandings of Critical Pedagogy, while being both open to and aware of the possible

limitations of Critical Pedagogy as a philosophy of education that has been theorized

more than practiced, and articulated to a greater extent than it has been tested. I have

found no manual for the implementation of a critical pedagogy; moreover, this would not

be a manual that could exist, given the profound degree to which this is a philosophy of

education that deeply values the distinct contexts in which education is carried out. At

the same time, throughout my pedagogical studies and work with young people, I have

been struck by the similarities between students at different ages and developmental

stages and the ways in which they gravitate to similar activities and evolve through

similar methods of growth. Thus, in this study, I have attempted to derive several

generative themes that align with and explain the needs of students at distinct stages in

the process of telling and forging their individual stories, finding commonalities that

define the collective story, and acting together to achieve a shared goal.

The themes of Imagination, Exploration, and Transformation, that I use to explain

a framework for an empowering curricular process, are interpretive and not exhaustive.

Furthermore, they are not my own. In attempting to understand my needs as an educator,

the needs of the other members of my class as students, and the more abstract needs of a

curriculum that serves us all, I have drawn from the themes that profoundly experienced

and reflective theorist-practitioner educators have used throughout the twentieth and

beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Rather than attempting to understand each theme

differently from those who initially identified them, my goal was to align the themes and

stages in a process that would achieve the goals of a critical pedagogy. Each theme

includes a great deal of flexibility and accessibility that can only be specified in relation

to a particular context in which an education for empowerment takes place. In the section

entitled Literature Review, I explain the themes in their more abstract form. In the

section entitled Case Study, I describe the ways in which these themes emerged in my

own experiences, interviews, and discussions. In the section entitled Conclusions, I

propose how this curricular framework might be applied in other contexts, as well as the

potential limitations for the implementation of these ideas. Thus, in noting and analyzing

the themes that I have identified, I believe that any educator and student seeking personal

and collective empowerment in any environment could find something in this critical

curricular framework useful towards their own process of imagining, exploring, and

transforming the world.

Section II: Literature Review

Imagination: Spaces, Arts, and Play

“To me the classroom continues to be a place where paradise can be

realized, a place of passion and possibility, a place where spirit matters,
where all that we learn and know leads us into greater connection, into
greater understanding of life lived in community.”
-bell hooks

Maxine Greene asks, in The Ambiguities of Freedom, “Are we concerned for

freedom from constraints, interferences, manipulations? Or are we, rather, concerned for

freedom as an ongoing achievement, freedom for choosing and acting on our own

initiatives? Are we born free, or do we become free by means of learning, questioning,

acting on shared commitments?” (Greene, 2000, p. 8). As is implicit in her questions,

Greene describes the importance of individual and collective imagination and action in

actualizing the goal of freedom. At the same time, any freedom to act on our own

initiatives and on shared commitments must have, at its foundation, opportunities for

individuals and collectivities to determine what we want our own initiatives and

commitments to be. A process of education that instills in us the commitments of others

and teaches us to interpret these commitments as our own cannot be deemed an education

for freedom. Freedom must be a positive freedom- the freedom to- as well as a negative

freedom- the freedom from. Any curriculum that adheres to the values of individual and

collective empowerment must address individual freedoms while concurrently addressing

collective freedoms. Having the freedoms to understand who each of us is, and how we

might envision a different world from those around us, are essential elements in

ultimately attaining the collective freedom to transform existing reality into that which

we envision.

If a curriculum is going to elicit the individual goals of each member of the

community, there must be opportunities for members of the community to be free to

imagine their desires and goals as unconstrained by that which seems possible.

Education does not, of course, take place in a vacuum. There is always a context, and

any power that individuals exercise in the form of action can be exercised only in that

context. Nonetheless, the degree of freedom of each individual exists only insofar as they

have the power to act upon that context; where individuals are constrained from

imagining how a context might be different, they are not free- they do not have the power

to transform it. As such, a curriculum must provide the opportunity to imagine a context

that does not exist, in order to determine the reality each student is personally invested in

creating. Greene writes,

“Benjamin Barber… like many other American commentators on our heritage, tells us
that ‘the fundamental task of education is the apprenticeship of liberty- learning to be
free… As I view it, it has much to do with spaces: public spaces and private spaces and,
yes, the inner spaces that imagination can open up when it discloses untapped
possibilities. If spaces can be opened that disclose alternative realities or ways of being,
individuals are far more likely to break with the ordinary and the taken-for-granted.
Visions may appear before their mind’s eye- visions of what might be, what ought to be.
Experiences of this kind are what direct attention to the deficiencies, the inequities in
lived situations; they may, in fact, provoke persons to take action together- to transcend
the deficiencies, to transform” (Greene, 2000; p. 8).

As Greene asserts, spaces must be fostered in which students can imagine unrealized

possibilities. After all, we are, as Freire asserts, “in the process of becoming,” whether

we are young children or grown adults. Therefore, the possibilities for what we may do,

how we may take action, and what we might become, as well as the potential realities we

may create, are always unveiling themselves before us. For us to take agency in the

evolution of ourselves and our context, we must be able to set and communicate our own

goals for who we might become, and what we might create. When we forge the spaces in

which we may envision a self and a reality that do not yet exist, we empower the

potential for their creation.

To foster spaces in which imagination is possible certainly also requires a degree

of structure and safety. Imaginative thought cannot take place when we are worried,

concerned, or afraid of the real demands placed on us. As a result, the creation of these

spaces is predicated upon structures of safety upon which all members of community can

rely. These include structures that provide for our physical as well as psychological and

emotional stability. Included in these structures of stability must be an educational

process that does not rely upon making students feel afraid that if they do not succeed on

a particular task, they will “fail” an assessment and hinder their potential for further


Once the spaces are fostered in which students may be free to imagine unrealized

possibilities, certain opportunities must be provided through which the imagination may

be rustled, prodded, and encouraged. Greene describes activities that have this effect.

She writes, “Geertz makes a point of great importance to me and my students when he

locates the commonality among the arts in the fact that ‘certain activities everywhere

seem specifically designed to demonstrate that ideas are visible, audible, and- one needs

to make up a word here tactible, that they can be cast in forms where the senses, and

through the senses the emotions, can reflectively address them’” (Greene, 1997; p. 387).

Greene articulates that thoughts, ideas, and emotions are the most basic building blocks

of realities that human beings create. When we provide for our students a diverse range

of methods of interpreting (through the senses) and creating (through thoughts and

feelings) the world, we show them the ways in which they can be powerful. Students

may come to have outlets for their deepest emotions in the enactment of themselves, and

the limitations of their thoughts can be broadened and deepened through interactions with

works that elicit unencountered emotions.

Central to designing a curriculum that will engage students in their imaginative

world are their own developmental limitations. For example, students who are just

emerging into a concrete operational awareness of the world will simply not be able to

interpret the symbolism that older students might. If we want to open our students to the

possibilities revealed through the imagination, we must be sensitive to their experiences,

and the way they interpret and reflect. When designing curricula that are meant to

encourage the imaginations of our students, we must remember where their imaginations

came from. For younger students, imagination is consistently being expressed in the

form of play. Writing about play, Barbara Biber asserts, “Play serves two different growth

needs in the early years: learning about the world by playing about it (realizing reality),

and finding an outlet for complex and often conflicting emotions (wherein reality and

logic are secondary)” (Biber, p. 191). Often, we interpret older students as not requiring

time to play. The structures that older students need in order to feel powerful in their play

may be increased, but their need to experiment with unknown possibilities is just as great.

I have never seen middle school students so engaged as when they are “playing”: making

up lyrics to songs, creating a Power Point presentation about a pair of shoes, or building

with only masking tape and newspaper. If we envision our students as powerful,

independent agents in their own lives and in their communities, we must provide them

with opportunities to imagine and to play with structures and forms of expression they

understand as well as those that are completely unfamiliar. It is in their play that they

will ask questions that will guide them intrinsically through the next stage: exploration.

Exploration: Questions, Experiments, and Relationships

Having provided students with the opportunity to imagine and to play, a critical

curriculum must give students the opportunity to explore realities as they are and as they

might become. If students will be able to act powerfully, being comfortable with their

imaginations is only the beginning. Students must now experiment with the world as

they had envisioned it during the imaginative stage to determine the extent to which their

imagined possibilities might be realized. Rather than calling this period exploration,

many science educators call it inquiry-based science. Inquiry-based learning, as a style

of education that elicits students’ questions and introduces young people to a scientific

method by which these questions may be addressed, is a crucial aspect of the exploratory

phase of this curricular framework. However, while the nature of an inquiry-based

curriculum generally stems from scientific knowledge deemed necessary for students by

a given set of pre-existing standards, an exploratory curriculum would focus especially

on those questions that correspond to the imaginative expressions elicited in the first

stage of the curriculum. There are three basic goals of the exploratory stage. The first is

allowing and encouraging students to be intrinsically motivated through the setting of

their own goals and the defining of their own most pressing questions and concerns. The

second is helping students develop and acquire capacities, skills, and dispositions through

which they are enabled to interact with others and their environment in such a way that

they may achieve the goals they set for themselves and determine long-term strategies for

achieving goals that are not immediately feasible. The third goal of this curricular stage

is for students to construct relationships between people, objects, ideas, and

representations of ideas in such a way that the new relationships may serve as the basis

for personal and collective transformation, as well as further imagination and exploration.

As stated previously, it is crucial to maintain that within a critical curriculum there

are certain values, dispositions, and capacities that students take from their educational

experience. These are the values, dispositions, and capacities that enable students to take

ownership of their own educational process in a way that renders new possibilities for

their own growth and development as consistently emerging. John Dewey writes, “The

belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all

experiences are genuinely or equally educative… Any experience is mis-educative that

has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (Dewey, p. 25)

Educators then, as those who are responsible for providing opportunities for students to

have and reflect upon experiences, are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the

explorations upon which we endeavor with our students are those that are relevant and

meaningful, and through which students can take an active involvement.

Through each new experience, students should be put in a position where they

may discover a purpose to guide their contribution, and capacities to empower their

analyses and creations. These capacities are termed “intellectual habits” by Meier,

“process skills” by Harlen, and “living skills” by Beane. In general, however, they are

the objectives which should be consistently infused into curricula for all students, of all

ages, levels, and contexts. They are the capacities that every young person can do, and

no person, young or old, does perfectly. As a result, they lie at the foundation of the

cliché so many schools use as the centerpiece of their marketing campaigns: a love of

learning. Dewey would say that learning to love learning requires a familiarity with

certain processes through which any experience may be made educative. If, as educators,

we focus only upon the skills that students approach to master and move on, skills like

long division, decoding long vowel sounds, or writing five-paragraph essays, we are not

cultivating a universally applicable approach to learning throughout life, but rather a

fleeting enjoyment of mastery and the extrinsic rewards that are conferred upon those

who are “masters”. What I have instead tried to outline as the foundation of the

exploration stage of a curricular process are those capacities necessary to cultivate an

openness and determination among each young person to embark upon every new

journey as one with the potential to provide opportunities to develop, strengthen, and

hone the capacities that will never be “mastered.”

Intrinsic motivation is a crucial aspect of critical pedagogy. Where motivation

comes from outside of ourselves, it does not encourage us to develop the power of

independent agency. Instead, it provides us with practice conforming to the demands

placed upon us by a reality which may or may not serve our own goals and desires. If the

curricular stage of imagination is carried out effectively, it should empower us with

questions we are committed to answering, goals we are committed to achieving, and

visions we are committed to realizing. The exploratory stage then, is where those

questions, goals, and visions may be further clarified and narrowed into experiments to

determine their validity in a world of natural laws that bound the possible. To rephrase,

the exploratory stage of the curriculum is one in which questions regarding the

feasibilities of realizing imagined possibilities are tested. Testing these questions will

require distinct, concrete skills, depending on the kinds of questions that students have,

and the academic material a teacher wishes to expose. Regardless of the question or the

material, however, there are certain process skills through which any question may be


The noted science educator, Wynne Harlen, describes these “process skills.” She

writes, “These are the mental and physical skills that are generally taken to be

observation, raising questions [out of curiosity], hypothesizing, predicting, devising and

conducting investigations, interpreting [evidence] and drawing conclusions,

communicating [and reflecting]” (Harlen, pp. 21, 28-29). While Harlen refers to these

process skills within the context of the investigation of the natural sciences, they are also

widely applicable in the social sciences and mathematics as well. And while the

development of skills is imbued in all curricula- and especially present in recent policy

efforts to ensure that every hour in the classroom is directed toward a particular objective,

an often isolated skill with which every student will leave- the process skills that Harlen

describes must be given special attention. These process skills are distinct from those

that include the ability to divide, decode, and develop an essay. While all of these are

crucial skills that an educated citizen should have, they are of fleeting significance in the

overall development of a curriculum that is directed toward establishing the capacities

and dispositions that students must continue to use and develop throughout the entirety of

their educational, professional, personal, and social lives. For this reason, I will call these

process skills capacities, while I will refer to isolated skills as such.

As students explore the questions that emerged through their own imaginative

undertakings, and as they develop the capacities to test and determine the potential for

realizing their imagined possibilities, they will begin to recognize relationships and

connections of all kinds. Some of these relationships will include connections between

their thoughts and what they discover in the world around them, connections between

distinct realities, and connections between themselves and other people in the

environments they explore. Lucy Sprague Mitchell, educator, theorist, and founder of

Bank Street College, writes, “The problem, which begins about seven and continues so

long as education continues, is how to provide not only first-hand data, but tools whereby

the relationships inherent in such data may be discovered, and how to build up images of

the distant and long-ago which are comparable in vividness and satisfying quality with

those gained through immediacy” (Sprague Mitchell, p. 18). In the imagination stage of

the curriculum, an educator provides students with opportunities to interpret and create

artistic expressions through which they are enabled to think from outside of themselves.

The development of any relationship requires imaginative and creative thinking. When a

relationship is forged between people, an individual comes to be able to recognize the

world from the perspective of another, and to analyze his or her own actions on the basis

of their impact on others. This compassionate stance requires each member of a

relationship to step out from behind the lens through which s/he interprets the world, and

to acknowledge other possibilities. The more diverse the experiences are of the people

who enter into a relationship, the greater the imagination required of its participants.

Similarly, for students to discover relationships between data, they must be able to

internalize the meaning of two distinct observations, and imagine a connection for the

first time. Sprague Mitchell writes, “The elaborate develops from the simpler. Keep

feeding children with 2’s (source material) and provide them with tools for discovering

relations and for making their images active, and thinking and playing will continue to

any height- up to Einstein or Conrad… or any other scientist or artist who thinks in

relationships and makes his images active” (Sprague Mitchell, p. 19).

The capacities presented by Harlen and required in order for students to

investigate and represent the developing relationships that Sprague Mitchell describes

lead directly to studies in the humanities and philosophy, as ultimately the questions of

why and how emerge through these experiences. In providing a set of “Guidelines for

‘why’ and ‘how’ questions,” the educator Jos Elstgeest writes, “Don’t ask questions of

this type until children have had the necessary experience they need so that they can

reason from evidence. When children ask ‘why’ questions consider whether they have

the experience to understand the answer” (Elstgeest, p. 45). As critical educators, we aim

to empower our students to consistently seek the answers to their questions and to ask

why things are the way they are, such that they might be able to imagine other

possibilities. Only when students have the necessary experiences to ascertain how reality

came to be the way they have been exposed to it will they be able to create a strategy for

employing a process that might yield an alternative reality. As students begin to

strategize how they might be agents of change in the promotion of their new, envisioned

realities, they become empowered citizens, capable of transforming themselves and their


Young children will play with whatever materials they have within reach. When

provided tools to explore relationships between these materials, they need little

motivation to use and interact with materials and tools, sometimes in ways that are

proscribed, and more often in as many ways they can think of. For older students,

however, especially when the use of tools and the complexity of the materials they are

provided become more specialized, it is important that they come to hold a purpose and

direction. Deborah Meier writes, in The Power of Their Ideas,

“[Central Park East Secondary School] focuses on five major ‘intellectual habits’- habits
that should be internalized by every student, and used no matter what they are studying
about, both in school and especially out of it! These five ‘habits’ include concern for
evidence (how do you know that?), viewpoint (who said it and why?), cause and effect
(what led to it, what else happened), and hypothesizing (what if, supposing that). But
most important of all is the 5th ‘habit’: who cares?” (Meier, p. 41).

Meier further describes the last “intellectual habit,” that of determining “who cares”

about a conclusion. She asserts, “Knowing and learning take on importance only when

we are convinced it matters, it makes a difference” (Meier, p. 41). As students explore

relationships and experiment with possibilities, they generate themes and connections

through which they may be located in the life of a broader community beyond the walls

of the classroom and each of their imagined thoughts and explored realities becomes

endowed with the profoundness of a meaning that can only be borne by owning the

direction of history as it is manifested by each new creation young people pursue and


James A. Beane, educator, curriculum designer, and author, writes about the skills

necessary for all students to have. He asserts, “Since a ‘living’ curriculum calls for more

than just ‘knowing,’ other… skills are also called for. These include… reflective

thinking… critical ethics… problem solving… valuing… self-concepting and self-

esteeming… social action skills… searching for completeness and meaning… Skills are

only worthwhile when… actually applied to real situations and… they are most likely to

be learned when they are so applied” (Beane, pp. 60, 62, 63) As we determine how to

organize and implement a curriculum that encourages students to value learning as an

extension of themselves, we must, as educators, ask and answer the question “who

cares?” such that our students may respond the same question for themselves. It is in

posing this question, and in seeking an elusive answer, that we may lend credibility to

teaching and learning as processes of empowerment.

Neither Beane nor Meier ever challenge the notion that skills are essential and

necessary. They do, however, challenge the proposition that the skills that are important

for all students will be the same across contexts in which students are educated, and may

therefore be standardized. “The question,” states Beane, “is not whether there should be

content and skills in a ‘new’ curriculum but how those will be brought into the lives of

young people… This ‘new’ curriculum is knowledge and skill loaded. But that does not

necessarily mean that all of what has previously been included will necessarily be

retained” (Beane, p. 77). Because, as Sprague Mitchell writes, all education entails the

discovery of relationships, the relationships to which students will have greatest access

are those that arise from the “data” to which their environment exposes them. For skills

to be elicited as they relate to individuals’ environments, they must be initially identified

as broad enough to allow for a great deal of flexibility and adaptability.

Beane describes a process of curricular design that elicits relevant themes from

students’ own experiences, and then aligns skills that are necessary to explore these

themes. “The matter of finding themes is something that should be done at the local level

by those who will carry them out… This method of planning is particularly promising

since it empowers young people and results in organic themes that are framed in terms of

their own sense of organization and connections” (Beane, pp. 74, 75). While the themes

that arise from students’ lives will be distinct given the local context of the environment

in which they are educated, Beane describes the universal requirements of any emergent

theme in order to align with the “living skills” noted above.

“A theme should: 1. explicitly involve questions and concerns from the young people
who will actually carry out the unit; 2. involve questions and concerns that are widely
shared among early adolescents; 3. involve widely shared, larger world concerns that are
of clear and compelling social significance; 4. engage a wide range of knowledge, skills,
and resources; 5. pose opportunities for in-depth and extended work; 6. present
possibilities for a wide variety of activities; and 7. present possibilities for personal and
social action, both in school and outside the school” (Beane, p. 75).

After young people have had the opportunity to imagine reality as distinct from its

current state of existence, and then explore the potential for their ideas to be realized,

they must embark upon a stage of transformation in which the “so what?” of their

imagining and exploring is answered. This responds to Beane’s final curricular

requirement, that of personal and social action. Any critical curriculum must insist that

students are presented opportunities to construct knowledge, and to use that knowledge to

determine how they will exercise their power. An educational process cannot empower

students unless it incorporates clear opportunities for individual and collective action.

This is how students will learn to be increasingly powerful, and also how to use that

power towards ends which benefit themselves and those around them in the achievement

of common goals and the resolution of common problems.

Transformation: Evaluating, Organizing, and Acting

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the
point, however, is to change it.”
-Karl Marx

The third stage of a critical curriculum has not been developed at length as a

crucial element of a formal school curriculum. As a result, while the principles of this

stage emerge from previously cited research and the practice of experienced educators, as

well as Critical Pedagogical theory, the specific goals and implementation of this stage

are derived mostly from the work of those who identify themselves as community

organizers and service learning educators. The rationale that supports the integration of

personal and collective action in any curriculum stems from Deborah Meier’s notion that

secondary school students must come to understand, first hand, the “so what?” of their

learning, and from James Beane’s premise that any middle school curriculum must

incorporate opportunities for action. Mark Springer, educator and author, writes, “I’ve

learned that learning is truly a journey, without beginning or end, that weaves us all

together among the senses of place, time and quality which constitute our identity. We

cannot separate the journey from the destination, or the traveler from the path” (Springer,

p. 28). If we wish, for our students and ourselves, that we may see our lives as a process

and our educations as ongoing, and are wary of any education that is missing an active

component as one which might well breed intellectualism, then we must ensure that all

curricula in our schools attend to students as whole people who make meaning through

their deeds and their creations, not only their thoughts and explorations. Paulo Freire

writes, “When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically

suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated

and alienating ‘blah’” (Freire, p. 87). The question is not whether there should be

opportunities for students to take individual and collective action within the formal

process of education, but rather how such action can be taken in a way that will maintain

the integrity of the educative (rather than mis-educative) nature of their learning. In other

words, an educator must design classroom activities and processes such that students take

meaningful action that speaks to their developmental capacities for understanding

themselves and the world around them, and that value the nature of students as

community resources, capable of acting with each other and those outside the school for

the purpose of a better collective future.

It comes as no surprise that this stage of the curricular process has been most

omitted from other curricular frameworks. As the stage in which students exercise power

in their lives and in their communities, it has the most potential to unearth problems that

adults have grown accustomed to burying. As such, this is the stage that requires the

most support from school administrators, parents, and other community institutions.

While young people are incredibly powerful, and can be those who help us face

ourselves, each other, and our institutions in ways that contribute immeasurably to our

collective well-being, if we bestow upon them the tools to act without a profound and

abiding respect in the importance and fragility of our structures, we expose ourselves, and

the young people, to great harm. I say this not as a disclaimer for those who would

challenge the power of youth, but rather as a call for vigilance among those who have

stood witness to misuse of institutional leadership, and seek to employ young people in

the struggle for equity and justice. Young people will come to learn to be powerful by

taking roles in existing structures. When they collectively decide that structures must be

transformed for the collective good, then we can help them strategize towards


The first stage of any sound process of community organizing must rely upon

great attentiveness to those around us. Many educators who identify their work as

socially conscious and their goal as social justice neglect this first stage. Often, we do so

because we have come face-to-face with, and understood the injustice that is embedded in

the structures to which young people are exposed. We seek to empower our students to

confront these injustices. And sometimes, we forget that they can only empower

themselves; our job is to provide them with experiences through which they may envision

an ideal world, and explore and analyze the existing one, before acting upon it in an effort

to make it more just. Founder of the Highlander Folk School, Myles Horton, said in a

conversation with Paulo Freire, “An organizer’s job is not to educate people as a prime

consideration. His job is to accomplish a limited, specific goal. I’m not saying it isn’t a

wonderful [and valuable] goal for the people… I’m just saying there’s a difference

between organizing and educating, and I think there’s a very important distinction. And

an educator should never become an expert, and an organizer quite often finds that that’s

his main strength, being the expert” (Horton and Freire, p. 128). In the process of

exploration, students should determine the themes and realities around which they are

interested in taking action. At the beginning of the stage of transformation, students must

become experts on these themes as they play a role in community life. For students of

different ages and developmental capacities, what is defined as “the community” will

vary. For six-year-olds, their community will most likely be the classroom and their

immediate families, perhaps with slight variability. For nine-year-olds, the community

might be the upper-elementary grades of the school, or the whole school, in addition to a

local business, academic institution, or public facility like a park or a hospital. For a

thirteen-year-old, the community will be identified more broadly, and for a sixteen-year-

old, more expansively still.

The first phase of becoming experts requires that educators develop a project

through which students conduct investigations into the lives and experiences of those

who inhabit the institutional spheres they seek to understand and potentially transform.

The social worker and historian of social and political movements, Robert Fisher, writes,

“The best organizer is not so much a leader as a catalyst… To the extent that the
organizer assumes a controlling leadership role, he or she reinforces ideas and
insecurities among neighborhood people of how and why they cannot lead themselves…
The organizer may accomplish many things, but he or she will not develop indigenous
leaders, will not be able to educate people in the process of democracy… The best
organizers are not the ones who are the most skilled, energetic, or forceful, but rather
those who have a sense of both a larger vision and what is possible and combine this with
the knowledge, ability, and skills of local people” (Fisher, p. 226).

Students’ initial investigations into transformative potential should look much like oral

history projects. They intersect with the identification of themes that goes on during the

exploration stage of the curriculum, as well as with the identification of transformative

action that can be undertaken. Explaining the relationship between identifying themes in

texts and conducting oral history, Kerry McKibbin writes, “There are obviously many

ways to go about approaching this, but the important thing is that the kids see how

literary themes are just as present in people’s real life stories. Scout and Atticus and Boo

Radley, in To Kill a Mockingbird, are certainly not the only ones who deal with racism,

injustice and the confusion that comes with growing up. Real people have stories to

share too, and that is at the heart of this project” (McKibbin, p. 14). As students conduct

oral history projects that align with the themes of their explorations, they will come to

understand the history and contemporary effects of, among others, social, political,

economic, and educational institutions on the lives of individuals in their community. As

they interpret the experiences of others and the injustices or inconsistencies they

perceive, students will be ready to strategize towards their own potential involvement in

serving as problem-solvers.

Freire comments to Horton, “We have more space outside the system, but we also

can create the space inside of the subsystem or the schooling system in order to occupy

the space. That is, I think politically, every time we can occupy some position inside of

the subsystem, we should do so” (Horton and Freire, p. 203). Giving students the

opportunity to understand injustices as a part of their formal curriculum will help them

begin to see the potential for working within the parameters of systems that sometimes

break down in benefiting the people they are designed to serve. In most instances, there

will be opportunities for students to address the injustices through established means.

And in some instances, students may not come to see any injustices at all, but rather come

to recognize a particular institution as fulfilling the role they have envisioned, and the

role they determine, through their investigations, is necessary. In this case, the resulting

action may not appear to be transformative as such, but rather complimentary. Even in

this case, however, the action that students take in striving to assist an institution with its

stated function will lead students to be personally transformed. In either case, whether or

not students determine that a transformation of the status quo is necessary, they will come

to identify with a more inclusive and extensive community, and will thus develop the

relationships that are so crucial in understanding how they can imagine exercising their

power as individuals and collectivities.

Political theorist, Martha Nussbaum, writes,

“The Stoics stress that to be a citizen of the world one does not need to give up local
identifications, which can frequently be a source of great richness in life. They suggest
that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series
of concentric circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one’s
immediate family; then follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or
local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen—and we can easily add
to this list groups based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual
identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole. Our
task as citizens of the world will be to ‘draw the circles somehow toward the center.’
(Stoic philosopher Hierocles)” (Nussbaum, p. 3).

Human beings come to identify with affiliations greater than ourselves not merely

through instinct, but rather through experience. We are born in a state of dependency, and

as we are taken care of by others, we begin to identify with them. As we develop,

physically, cognitively, psycho-socially, and emotionally, our potential to interpret the

struggles of others as our own increases. However, this potential must be actualized by

experiences through which we internalize grander and more inclusive circles of

identification. When our thinking in and of the world becomes ossified, we are stifled

from expanding and opening ourselves to new and previously undiscovered

identifications, relationships, and truths. Critical Theory- the Frankfurt School-

deconstructs these ossified systems of thought and permits us to accept the unknown-

tells us, once more, that the shadows are cast by the light. At the same time, however, for

those who have been rejected and scarred by the cave’s overseers, this message comes

not as a welcomed friend, but as a threatening stranger.

“Dialectical thought starts with the experience that the world is unfree; that is to say, man
and nature exist in conditions of alienation, exist as ‘other than they are.’ Any mode of
thought which excludes this contradiction from its logic is faulty logic. Thought
‘corresponds’ to reality only as it transforms reality by comprehending its contradictory
structure. Here the principle of dialectic drives thought beyond the limits of philosophy.
For to comprehend reality means to comprehend what things really are, and this in turn
means rejecting their mere factuality. Rejection is the process of thought as well as of
action…. Dialectical thought thus becomes negative in itself. Its function is to break
down the self-assurance and self-contentment of common sense, to undermine the sinister
confidence in the power and language of facts, to demonstrate that unfreedom is so much
at the core of things that the development of their internal contradictions leads necessarily
to qualitative change: the explosion and catastrophe of the established state of affairs”
(Marcuse, p. ix).

Critical Pedagogy, in contrast to the work of most critical theorists, seeks to reconcile the

unknown. Freire, Marcuse, and the critical educators who follow in their footsteps, seek

not to compel young people to swiftly jolt themselves from the shadows, and run toward

the light, but rather to consistently seek the light, with solace, dignity and courage that is

rooted in the knowledge of the truth as, at one and the same time, within each of us and

amidst all of us. Cultivating this courage is not the work of one, but the work of all. And

the imagination, exploration, and transformation that are required are not finite periods of

epiphany, but overlapping and expanding spirals of development that must be sought

constantly to empower us, not to piece together that which we know no longer to be true,

but to reconstruct that which has never been discovered.

“Dialectical thought… speaks to both critique and theoretical reconstruction (Giroux
1981). As a mode of critique, it uncovers values that are often negated by the social
object under analysis. The notion of dialectics is crucial because it reveals ‘the
insufficiencies and imperfections of ‘finished’ systems of thought…’ (Held 1980) As a
mode of theoretical reconstruction, dialectical thought points to historical analysis in the
critique of conformist logic, and traces out the ‘inner history’ of the latter’s categories and
the way in which these are mediated within a specific historical context… Dialectical
thought reveals the power of human activity and human knowledge as both a product of
and force in the shaping of social reality. But it does not do so to proclaim simply that
humans give meaning to the world. Instead, as a form of critique, dialectical thought
argues that there is a link between knowledge, power, and domination. Thus it is
acknowledged that some knowledge is false, and that the ultimate purpose of critique
should be critical thinking in the interest of social change” (Giroux, p. 18).

Educators must be responsible for taking on the role of reconstruction and social change.

That knowledge, power, and domination are so inextricably linked illuminates the central

role of education as that which empowers, or domesticates. If the revolutions of the

twentieth century have taught us anything- if Cuba has lent one lesson- it is that the

process of revolution is never complete. As soon as we deconstruct a misguided truth, we

must be immediately prepared with a theory of transformation, and we must prepare each

other to ensure that following generations might transform, if we allow them the freedom

and the tools with which to imagine and explore. Freire writes, “If true commitment to

the people, involving the transformation of the reality by which they are oppressed,

requires a theory of transforming action, this theory cannot fail to assign the people a

fundamental role in the transformation process” (Freire, p. 126).

Section III: Case Study

This case study is the process by which I came to recognize the stages necessary

in a critical curriculum. It is a study of my experiences teaching a two-day/week, one

hour/day service-learning class to seventh grade, public school students in the South

Bronx. Having spent three years teaching fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes in more

formal contexts, I realized that the curricular structure that teachers were trained and

mandated to implement was not best contributing to student empowerment. This less

formal teaching opportunity provided me the chance to create curricula on an ongoing

basis, and without being held to any formal standards or mandates. The goal of the

particular service-learning program through which I was teaching was to provide students

with opportunities to explore issues that are relevant in their lives, and then to work with

them to design a service-learning project through which they could further investigate an

issue and collectively take action.

I began this project believing deeply that education and organizing are the same

process, and that an educator and an organizer have the same responsibilities to those

with whom they work. As such, I began developing the curriculum that I taught as I

would have developed an organizing campaign. What I came to realize, however, was

that many of my initial assumptions were not contributing to the empowerment of my

students any more than the curricula I had been mandated to teach to my students over

the previous three years. As part of my research for this case study, I also formally

interviewed several educators and curriculum developers, as well as one of my students,

who helped me clarify the process I was designing. Their contributions were

transformational in my own understanding of curricular design as an element of the

educational process, and several facets of my own thinking throughout the development

of this curriculum are clarified in the context of their ideas.2

Week 1

The initial objectives of the first week were to help students get to know one

another, to build a sense of community in the classroom, to help students feel comfortable

sharing openly and honestly with the other members of the class, and to begin to

recognize the assets of the school and community. Furthermore, the goal was to help

students identify aspects of their school or community that they wanted to change, and to

act out scenarios that students wished had gone differently. There were twelve students

present the first week. Upon entering class, students set the chairs up in a circle around

the room, and we introduced ourselves with our names, and something that we hoped to

get out of the class. About ten of the students said that they wanted to play games in the

class, a couple said that they wanted entertainment, one girl said she wanted to do

performances of music or theater, and a couple did not respond to the question. When

one student noted that she wanted to get into a good high school, several students revised

their response to affirm her desire.

Emma G., one of the curriculum developers I interviewed, said, "There's sort of

this constant dance around loving and peaceful control of the classroom in terms of

creating a space that is safe enough in which students can have interesting conversations

that talk about things that are a little bit harder to talk about, like feelings, or like culture

and identity, and where people can play games where they're touching each other, and

where they're expected to be moving in a space together" [Appendix A]. In order to

begin to set up this kind of environment, our class played a game called “The Warm Wind

Blows.” In this activity, one member stands in the center of the circle, while the rest of

Full text of interviews are attached as appendices A-D.

the class sits in chairs around the outside. There are only enough chairs for the members

sitting down, so one person is always standing in the center. The person in the center

says, “A warm wind blows for anybody wearing blue.” Anyone who is wearing the color

blue has to get up and find another seat. The person left standing in the middle comes up

with another characteristic and repeats the process. All students participated in this

activity with the exception of one who immediately hit a classmate in response to

something that he said, and I asked her to separate herself from the group for the

beginning of the game. She rejoined us a few minutes later.

After we completed the activity, I asked students to respond to the following

questions: What is the best thing about your school? What is the best thing about your

neighborhood? What is one thing you would like to change about your school or your

neighborhood? The responses to the first question included the fact that the school is

dual-language, recess and gym. The responses to the second question included stores,

fast-food restaurants, the park, and Yankee Stadium. Only one student responded to the

last question. She noted that her teachers were mean and yelled too much, rather than

giving them anything fun to do. This sparked a conversation in which another student

responded that a particular teacher would always try to do fun activities, but when people

were not participating or distracting each other, they would not get the chance to finish

the activity. Ironically, students began speaking over each other and interrupting one

another, so we moved on to an activity in which students brainstormed appropriate norms

for conversations.

One curriculum developers and educators who I interviewed, Edwin M., said,

"One of the things I would do, would be to have some sort of larger general question for

the… semester around, 'What is power, and how does it shape our lives?'" [Appendix B].

The second day of the class, I brought in posters with different images [Appendix E].

Above each image contained the question, “How can ____________ be powerful?” In

each blank space was a concept that aligned with the image. Concepts included

“groups,” “individuals,” “education,” “language,” “silence,” “refusal,” “art,” “poetry,”

“theater,” and “violence.” In groups of three, students responded to each of the questions

on the posters. When we gathered back together as a class to discuss the responses,

students were not able to listen to each other. One student would get up to present, and

other students would yell out such that the discussion was made unfeasible. I ended up

spending several minutes lecturing students about the importance of respecting each other

when others are speaking, and then asking students to read an abridged article about

Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed [Appendix G]. I explained that since students

had expressed interest in doing performances, I had planned to spend the last part of class

performing, but since that time had been taken up trying to get through our discussion,

we would not be able to complete the activity. The goal of this activity had been for

students identify specific experiences that they were dissatisfied with, and to act out

alternative ways those experiences might have taken place. It was the second day of

class, but my mind had already entered organizer mode, and I wanted to push forward to

identify our issues, projects and possible areas of collective action. It didn’t work.

After the first week, I wrote this journal entry reflecting on the class. “It is clear

that the class needs to work on how to have a conversation together. Maybe creating a set

of class rules and regulations is appropriate at this point. Another option might be to do

activities that have inherent structures that require students to listen and respond to each

other. Yes, And… game is one possibility.” I figured that students seemed to want to

play games, and reflecting on Dewey’s notion that all games carry structures, I thought

about the kinds of games we could play that would implicitly teach the rules of a

conversation without having to explicitly set up rules that required specific behaviors of

students at specific moments.

I decided that the second week we would focus on games and activities to help

students set up dialogues more effectively with one another, such that they could

contribute to the building of a collective project. In a recent interview, Bill Ayers noted,

“In any educational community, we must first tell our stories. Then we must find the

bonds of commonality between our stories. Finally, we must act collectively” (personal

communication, April 22nd, 2008). This had been the closest approximation to an

interpretation of education that took account of both individual and collective

transformation, as well as collective action, that I had found. As such, I sought to

develop a curriculum through which these three components were present. When

students struggled to have a dialogue with each other, it seemed necessary to focus on

setting up structures of group communication. I planned the second week such that

students would have opportunities for both small and large group communication, using

structures that had worked with previous groups of students.

Week 2

The first class began with a Yes, And... activity. This is a game used in

improvisational theater classes to help students build upon each other’s ideas and learn to

create a common product. I created and presented the title of the story, “The Day I Woke

Up With Superpowers.” In a circle, each student says one line of the story, and the story

builds from one student to the next. I had done this activity with other seventh graders in

the past, and it had always proceeded very successfully. We began the activity, but as

soon as the first student contributed a line to the story, several other students erupted in

laughter and began yelling insults at each other across the room. After waiting for

students to become quiet, we continued the game, but the next student, having realized

that he could not expect other students to listen and respect his input, said that he would

not contribute anything. I responded that if he did not feel comfortable, we could go on

to the next person, but the next three students passed as well, and it became clear that this

activity was not going to yield a collective story.

Edwin asserts, "I would say that I kind of moved away from being totally student-

centered, and that I'm trying to rewrite the teacher back in… I think that if it's completely

student-centered, it's… false consciousness on the part of the teacher… Your voice is

there… in what structures are provided, in what resources are provided." I began to

realize that I would first have to impose some structures upon the flow of the class,

second, that given the circumstances, the only effective activities seemed to be in small

groups, with the exception of games that required little or no talking, and third, that these

students did not know why they were in a service-learning program or even what service-

learning meant. Essentially, students had no idea what the expectations of them were

during our time together, nor did they have any idea of what the final outcome would be.

I had become so used to teaching classes in which the external pressures for students to

“behave” were so great that the need to establish intrinsically motivating activities had

not appeared as necessary. Having spent the previous three years responding consistently

to the persistent threats and demands of administrators, I realized that I had not learned to

carefully interpret the needs of students.

Weeks 3, 4, and 5

For the following classes, I designed activities that would enable students to

spend the majority of their time in small groups, and to clearly identify the meaning of

service-learning and the purpose of our class as a whole, while sharing ideas with each

other in subtle and indirect ways. The first activity was for students to create interview

questions, and then to interview each other in partnerships [Appendix F]. Students were

able to work well in partners, and in their introductions of one another to the class, they

maintained a level of composure and attentiveness that allowed for the class discussion to

evolve far beyond where it had previously.

In the whole class discussion, I asked students if there had been any question that

they felt a little uncomfortable answering, and whether there were any questions that

students heard as we went around that they were interested in asking each other. Several

students responded in both cases that while they felt uncomfortable answering the

question, “When was your first kiss?” they wanted to answer it themselves and hear

others’ answers as well. This led to the first whole class discussion we were able to have

without major interruptions. The themes of gender, sexuality, and relationships continued

to emerge from this point forward, so I organized two activities for the following week

through which students could explore these themes. Edwin describes his own goals,

stating, "It's one of the areas that I want to continue exploring to see how do we bring

people together around text, or around writing ourselves into our classroom?" [Appendix

B] Having begun to identify some themes that were relevant and universal in our class, it

seemed that the opportunity to begin "writing ourselves into our classroom" was now

more tenable.

In one of the activities, students split up by gender and responded to nine

questions about how men and women are perceived in our society, and how they are

perceived by students [Appendix H]. After responding to these questions, the boys’

group and the girls’ group came back together to discuss what they had come up with.

Each group had written their responses on chart paper, and when they saw each other’s

charts, many of the students started pointing at what had been written, and raising their

voices. One girl shouted, “Are you kidding me?! You guys make me sick!” A boy

responded, “Yeah, but you know it’s the truth!” Each student had a piece of paper, and I

asked them to spend two minutes writing everything that they disagreed with and

everything that surprised them about the other group’s responses. We went around in a

circle, and everyone shared one of the things they had written on their own paper. As a

class, we discussed the difference between a perception and a reality, whether the realities

were the same in school and at home, and whether the same realities were true in our

homes and in our friends’ homes. The girls were particularly upset by the fact that the

boys had written that if a woman gets into a conflict she should “Call [her] man,” and that

the men should “Sit down and watch if [the fight is between a] girl [and a] girl.” Several

girls commented that this was a perception and not a reality, because they had been in

conflicts, and rather than calling men, they fought with the other person.

Several other activities were presentations and discussions on gender and

sexuality. A representative of the New York Civil Liberties Union came to class to

present to students the rights that minors have with regard to their sexuality and

reproductive health, and a group of representatives from an organization called

Preventing HIV/AIDS in the Next Generation (PHANG) came to class to discuss

HIV/AIDS prevention. While students seemed engaged and interested in the general

topics, they did not ask many questions of the presenters, and when they discussed the

presentations, they said that they did not know people they thought were affected by the

issues that the presenters brought up. When we began discussing the issue of sexuality,

two students again referred back to the original conversation we had regarding gender

and violence, and the concern over each group’s responses to the question about conflict

arose again. Violence thus began to emerge as another theme that concerned students,

and one which they might have more experiences upon which to reflect and research.

Ultimately, my goal was for students to be able to deal with the how and why questions

that Elstgeest states must be rooted in experiences. In order for students to develop a

project that would come from their own interests and commitments, rather than from my

own, I needed to discover the nature of their personal experiences such that we could

delve deeply into a subject and elicit strategies for resolving existing problems.

Week 6

I decided that since the activity regarding gender had been so effective in drawing

out student interest and meaningful conversation, I would create a similar activity with

regard to the theme of violence [Appendix J/K]. In two groups, this time not organized

by gender, students responded to fourteen questions about violence. As they put their

responses together, it became clear that their experiences with violence were extensive

and consistent.

“Anthony: [To class] Calláse! We was talkin’ about how violence affects us. And we
was talkin’ about answering questions, about how violence is affecting other people.

Ammhar: On my block, somebody got shot, and I knew him.

Marianne: There’s not only violence within the people in the community. There’s also
violence going on with the police. Some police people… men, like to take advantage of
their power.

Mr. Block: Do you know a particular example of that happening?

Marianne: Yes, but I don’t want to describe it.

Anthony: My cousin’s boyfriend was killed in a gunfight, rest in peace.

Josh: In the newspaper, police once killed two people on my block cause they didn’t like
them… It’s true. And around 170, where I live, another person got shot yesterday, and
some of my friends, they saw people with crow bars, and they were trying to run away
from them. And then other people had a bag of rocks, in a plastic bag.

Marianne: There’s also a lot of violence in our communities, not always because of
individuals. There’s not only individuals that are starting violence, there’s also groups of
people. There’s like gangs, like Bloods, Cripps, Latin Kings.

Ammhar: There’s Bloods, Cripps, Latin Kings, Chinese gangs.

Marianne: I want to ask a question. There’s not only gangs, there’s also racial groups,
like Nazis and stuff like that…

Josh: I wanted to say something. It’s not only gangs. It could also be kids in school, it

could be parents, it could be teachers. Kids, they could just start fighting, and there’s also
racism, so anyone could just start fighting cause they don’t like their race. It’s not only
gangs and police. We have people too” [Appendix J].

It seemed as though students had many personal experiences with violence, and

that they were trying to make sense of these experiences in a constructive way. I thought

that this would be a good chance to develop an in-depth study, as Beane describes, where

the theme of violence could become more clear. At the same time, however, I wanted to

ensure that the project came from students’ own interests and not my own, so I conducted

a survey [Appendix L]. The survey was entitled, “Project Ideas,” and the options were a)

Relationships: Physical and Emotional, b) High School: What do They Look For?, and c)

Violence: Our Schools and Our Community. While we had not discussed high school at

length, many of the students’ conversations pertained to their worries, fears, and choices

about high school. Thus, I determined that giving this survey to students would address

two concerns. First, I had taken a step back from trying to jump into working with

students to identify a particular issue in an effort to transform their community, but I

thought that students would be ready to explore one thematic issue in a great deal of

depth that might ultimately lead to a transformative project. Second, I was curious how

students’ choices would be distributed, since we had spoken about two of these issues in

our classes, and students had expressed a good deal of enthusiasm towards both. When I

received the surveys, each option scored almost identically, with the violence project

ranked just above the high school project, and the relationship project ranked just under

that. While this was not a unanimous go-ahead, it seemed that there were few enough

students who ranked the violence project last, that if we went ahead with it, everyone

would feel that their voice had been heard.

Weeks 7-10

Having identified the violence project as the one that merited exploration, I began

identifying resources to bring into the classroom to help students further develop the

foundational theme. First, we listened to the song “President,” by Wyclef Jean

[Appendix M]. Students responded to the question, “What kinds of violence does Wyclef

describe in this song?” Students identified a wide range of types of violence, including

war, segregation, sickness and disease, and unfair taxation. Through the levels of

interpretation of what violence entailed, it seemed to me that students were ready to delve

more deeply into issues of violence with more complex texts. I brought into class a text

about domestic violence called “Linda’s Story,” [Appendix N] that addressed the cyclical

nature of abusive relationships. Students created scripts to act out “Linda’s Story,” and

while most of the students were profoundly moved by the story, the majority of them

struggled to represent it in their own writing. The majority of the students in the class,

refused to do the assignment altogether.

Since domestic violence had been one of the forms of violence that students had

described as having only tangentially experienced, and since I realized that it might be a

topic they did not feel comfortable being open about, I brought in an interview with a

former gang member as one type of violence with which they seemed to connect more

openly. This interview, entitled “A Gang’s Eye View of the Bronx Streets,” [Appendix

O] was easier for students to connect to, at least from the perspective of acting it out.

Perhaps because this interview was presented in the format of a radio dialogue, which

students may have been more familiar with, or perhaps because the content was a little bit

lighter than “Linda’s Story,” students responded well to the interview, and enjoyed acting

it out. As we began discussing issues of gang violence, however, one student in

particular, the same girl who initially brought up police violence in our first discussion

about violence, again challenged the assumption that the violence that is most harmful is

that which is perpetrated by “normal people” like those in families and those in gangs.

She described police violence as being the most harmful kind of violence, because it was

committed by people with power. The class did not fully agree, but other students had

experienced instances of police violence before and affirmed the negative effects of those

with “legitimate” power in their community.

In order to affirm, as much as I could, the perspectives that students offered, the

next text that I brought into class was a newspaper article about two activist hip hop

musicians who had been violently brutalized by police when standing up for an

immigrant street vendor just a few blocks from our school [Appendix P] In addition to

reading this article with students, I brought in one of the group’s songs, entitled “Which

Side Are You On?” ( More than

anything else that we had done in the previous ten weeks, students gravitated to this

expression. I continued bringing in examples of spoken word and hip hop resistance

from the Bronx and beyond, including Zora Howard’s “Biracial Hair”

(, Mayda Del Valle’s “Mami’s Making

Mambo” (, and Saul Williams’

“Coded Language” ( Students

became so invested in expressions of spoken word, poetry, and hip hop, that we held a

poetry/hip hop writing contest where students composed their own lyrics and competed.

For the first time since the beginning of the year, students who had been almost

completely silent were able to stand up and read what they had created. One young lady,

Jennifer, whose voice I had not heard more than a handful of times throughout the entire

ten weeks, stood up and read her poem to the class. It was a simple poem. She read,

“Random violence is when you do it by mistake and domestic violence is when you do it

when it’s not fake.” By the time she finished reading her page-long rap about the

differences between types of violence, her eyes watered and her hands shook. But as she

finished, the class gave her a round of applause. A girl who I had never seen smile before

now comes into class with a big grin spread across her face every day.

Beyond Week 10

Since the poetry/spoken word/hip hop competition, students have moved

on to begin thinking about being able to create something as a group, not just as

individuals. Instead of enforcing norms as the educator, students created a class

constitution throughout several of our meetings together, and now have their

own document that guides and informs their actions This was not easy for them,

as one student, Anthony, articulated clearly. "Mr. Block, there's so many rules

here. We are used to just having a little bit of rules [points to rules that another

teacher has posted on the wall], like keep your hands to yourself, don't call out,

be on time. We had these since kindergarten, and we thought it'd be like this till

we die!" However, through the conversation, members of the class began to see

the ways in which implementing collective structures would not only serve the

facilitator, but that if they were developed by everyone, they would serve us all.

After understanding the process of dialogue and rule-making a little more

clearly, students arrived at the consensus that the constitution should not only

include things that they were supposed to do, but things that I was supposed to

do too, as the facilitator. This is reflected in Article II:


SECTION A: Cooperate during discussions and activities
SECTION B: Participate in entertaining activities
Hands-on activities
Physical activities
Visual activities (art, movies, etc.)
Interesting work
SECTION C: Make sure our class project is interesting to all of

Do something that will help us in our lives
Come up with a list of things that we care about
Have everyone come up with suggestions
Do research to see what other people are doing and
what we could do
Vote on the things that we all want to do
Have class visitors to talk about issues in the community
and possible projects
Debate about why we want to help our community and
what we want to do
Interview other students (especially those who are not in
after-school programs)" [Appendix Q].

Whereas I initially had to subtly and indirectly give students the opportunity to create

texts and ideas collectively, now they are doing it explicitly. While they may not be quite

ready to take their creations beyond the classroom, this is certainly something I think

could be possible by the end of the year.

One of the program administrators and curriculum developers who I interviewed

said, "Certain students, [are] very rigid. They're really not ready to think about things in

a way like, 'how can we change this? How can we make it better?'… Some kids are

developmentally not ready to take on certain things, and it makes them very

uncomfortable… they [are] just in a place where they [aren't] ready to think about it as

this larger thing going on outside of… what they [are] going through and what they

[know] about the way things are" [Appendix D]. Some people might argue that there is a

process of developing a classroom rapport that takes a while with any group. But it

became clear through the imaginative and expressive exercises that we were doing, that

what students needed to be able to push themselves to further explore the realities around

them was the freedom to imagine. Nicole says, "[Students should] see that people do

have things like mission statements and goals, so that they can then start to think

idealistically a little bit. They can think about, 'Well they're trying to do this, but is that

really what I see going on?'" Poetry and music empowered us to start thinking

idealistically, which has led to students being able to identify more broadly than they

previously had.

Around our tenth week of class, I asked a student in my class, Jeremy, how to turn

a thought into an action. He responded, "I think from getting a thought to an action, I

think first you have to have an idea, then you have to have a plan for how to get it into an

action. Then other people might agree with your idea, and you can start a group or

something. Then you can do a petition or some kind of document and give that to a

higher authority to make the action" [Appendix C]. This is how I realized the role of

imagination and art in any thoroughly critical curriculum. If students are not ready to

"have a thought," as Jeremy described, there can be no dialectical process of learning.

Any action will not be transformative for the students or for the world. It is only through

my own voyage of thinking, planning, (failing, too), and transforming that I have been

able to design a curriculum that I truly believe does justice to my students, and it is only

through this same journey, that I myself have learned how to truly respect the process of

students’ own creations. When I became an educator, I imagined education as a process

of transformation. Only through my own process of being empowered to explore my

students, myself, the community, and the curriculum have I been able to arrive at the

recognition that it is when I transform my thoughts that my students may begin to

imagine their own. I recently contacted Rebel Diaz, the group whose song inspired our

unit. They live and work in the South Bronx, and will be visiting our class in the coming


The goal is to now provide students with opportunities to see the classroom and

our work not "as [a] shelter from the community, [but rather] as [a] central asset to the

community, ecologically and environmentally, and in terms of social, human resources

that it can serve" [Appendix B]. This will require working with students to go through

the process of testing out their imaginations and developing their own expertise through

which they might educate others, and expand the process of learning beyond where I

might be able to take it for myself, or for our immediate classroom. "The impact is

actually fairly low as far as the people who are receiving the information. There are

changes that happen, and more resources that get taken advantage of, but it doesn't really

change behavior. The behavior changes in the educators, which is why it's so important

to educate kids to be educators and leaders, because they're the ones who… espouse and

represent [it]. It does become a part of who they are" [Appendix D].

Section IV: Conclusions

"To educate educators! But the first ones must educate themselves! And
for these I write."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Critical Pedagogy helps us recognize education and empowerment as mutually

constitutive processes. Then, Nietzsche’s exclamation may be rephrased- To empower

empowerers! But the first ones must empower themselves! For those of us who are

willing to undertake the responsibility of universal empowerment, collective

democratization and the revitalization of the institutions that uphold the values that

promote freedom, we must have spaces in which we, ourselves, may be free. Our

imaginations, like others’, require cultivation and encouragement. For educators who are

daily faced with the harsh realities we seek to remedy, we are perpetually in a stage of

exploration. Skills are mandated upon us, whether by decree from administrators, or by

the necessities arising from our experiences with students. We are told that “these kids”

require everything from us, that we do not have the luxury to reflect, for the time taken

will result in the failure of our students and the ostensible termination of all their future

prospects. In such an environment, there can be only one way of measuring success, and

as the burden on students and schools increase, the remedy is insidiously articulated: toil

longer! Work harder! Raise your expectations! But the reality is that we do not need

raised expectations, we need transformed expectations, and moreover, we need

encouragement to have our own expectations.

We are modeling life for our students, and where a student sees their parents,

teachers, and neighbors working themselves to the bone to survive, they will inherit the

pervasive messages of fear, conformity, and the inevitability of social and political

reproduction. If we envision a society that looks differently from that in which we live,

we will not reach our goal through more drills that instill bits of knowledge in our

students, more tests that evaluate the same content, and more punishments that breed

more fear. We need spaces in which we might imagine a tomorrow that looks different

from today; we need more friends, colleagues, and peers who support and collaborate to

create visions of alternate realities and ways of thinking. And ultimately, we need to

know that when we do not succeed, we will be worked with, cared for, and encouraged to

try again. More than anything else, the point must be rigorously and unambiguously

defended: we will not give up our humanity. As damaging to an educator’s dignity as the

low pay, status, and respect are, the saturated images of the teacher-savior are perhaps

even more dehumanizing. We need what you need, what those who came before us

needed, and what those who will inherit our society need. For educators are the

gatekeepers not only of knowledge, but also of power and of the balance of domination or

humanization that will define future realities. The opportunities that we are provided are

those that we will be able to provide for our students, and that they will be able, in turn,

to provide for those that come after them. The inequities and injustices in our society did

not occur by accident, nor did they fashion themselves. They were maintained and

perpetuated by people who mandated that when what we do does not work, we must do

more of the same. What we must do is something different, and unless we allow our

educators and our students to imagine what that might be, we will confer upon the next

generation the same ills that were conferred upon ours.

It is not only possible to create these opportunities for educators to imagine a

world in which their students are protected, provided for, and uplifted, but it is going on

in dark corners and hidden passageways all around us. It goes on where we gather after

school for beers, on weekends for coffees, and summertime for mysterious excursions. It

is where you hear us trading songs to share with our students, see us sharing notes at a

movie theater, and gathering for house parties with those who share similar, and often

very different, visions. These opportunities are not available for all of us, and where they

exist, they are often taken away. But as long as there are teachers who still dare to dream,

these spaces will be forged. And they are not when we are in school, by ourselves, with

the door shut, at 8:30 on a Friday night, isolated and alienated, wondering how we might

survive another day.

In my experience, being allowed to imagine gave me the courage to complete a

renewed exploration of my students, myself, and the educational process. It was only

through this exploration that I began to understand the possibilities and limitations of my

students and the resources at my disposal, and that I determined to transform my thinking

and my classroom to reconcile and align my needs with those of my students. After

completing one cycle of this process as an educator, I became free to encourage my

students with the opportunities and the power to embark on the cycle themselves. As

stated previously, this cycle is constantly occurring on large and small scales, but it seems

as though one complete year that encompasses this process can have the power to

meaningfully transform educators and empower us to do the same for our students. Thus,

all educators must have access to ongoing development opportunities that allow and

encourage us to create spaces of our own while supporting us to think imaginatively, and

then to slowly transform these spaces through our actions.

In essence, we need our own classrooms, rife with opportunities to experience and

reflect in community with others, challenging and collaborating on the grandest and most

micro dimensions of our work, developing relationships not only with each other, but also

between the ideals we imagine, each individual strategy that we employ, and every

intermediary that allow the two to unite in a consistency of purpose and method, theory

and practice. When educators are instrumentalized as functionaries in the

implementation of any process of schooling, we can only reclaim our humanity by

discovering a true praxis outside of the school system. “Revolutionary praxis cannot

tolerate an absurd dichotomy in which the praxis of the people is merely that of following

the leaders’ positions… In order to dominate, the dominator has no choice but to deny

true praxis to the people, deny them the right to say their own word and think their own

thoughts” (Freire, p. 126). In a free, balanced, and empowering school and school

system, these spaces would be provided with and for all educators. Until they exist,

however, we must create them ourselves. In so doing, we will foster a network of mutual

empowerment among ourselves, each other, and the vast array of communities with

whom we work.



Interview with Emma G.

Peace Activities Program Specialist in New York City
November 2nd, 2008

Can you describe the program that you work for, and particularly its aims and objectives?

I work for Peace Activities, which is an educational non-profit which works with

students, teachers, whole schools to help young people become peace makers. That

means developing the skills, knowledge, relationships, and then also giving them the

opportunity to be peace makers. What it consists of, in our current, full-scale model, is a

full-time Peace Activities coordinator that is not paid by the school, but is in the school

full-time, who is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the program in the school,

and generally improving the school climate and taking a very holistic approach. That

person also coordinates a group of volunteers, and the volunteers are trained to give

classes. One, every student in the school receives 45 minutes to an hour of Peace

Activities curriculum per week for ten weeks in the fall and ten weeks in the spring. The

fall semester curriculum is cooperative games based, and its also standards based, and it

builds from kindergarten up to eighth grade, with developmentally appropriate

approaches to what is peace making and what does it mean to be a peace maker? Second

semester, the second ten weeks is service learning, community service learning

curriculum, in which the students are facilitated through a process in which they think

about what is community, and what does it mean to be a peace maker in our community?

What is the scope of the community that we want to address, and how? And then the

students come up with a service learning project, guided by their volunteer teachers, and

then they carry it out over the course of the semester. Ideally, we also work with families,

we have family workshops, it depends on the school. We work with the teachers at the

school, the administration, we do professional development, and generally respond to the

needs of the school in terms of creating a more peaceable climate but also empowering

the young people to be peacemakers.

Can you describe a little bit more about what is the specific role of the coordinator? It

sounds like the coordinator’s job is not necessarily the person who’s even most influential

within the classroom. It sounds like the coordinator’s job is more a responsibility school-

wide. Is that true?

Yeah, so the coordinator is responsible for all the volunteers who teach classes. And the

coordinator, at any given school, probably teaches between two and five classes, with the

volunteer. But their job is really to build relationships with everyone throughout the

community, help people build relationships with each other, and over the course of three

years, give that school community the tools to continue their peacemaking work without

a full-time Peace Activities coordinator. So, if that means building facilitating

relationships being built between teachers who are interested in and committed to going

above and beyond in terms of providing peacemaking activities, events, coaching the

administrators, the principals, helping them think about whole-school approaches to

climate and peacemaking, and being the go-to person for the volunteers. The volunteers

are participating in their own form of service learning. Most of them are work-study

students or doing some form of fieldwork, and some of them are simply volunteers, and

they’re also being educated and learning as well as giving. I particularly love this

program model that Peace Activities uses, because it provides peace education to

everyone, even the teachers of the young students are students who are also learning.

They don’t come from peace education programs. They come from wherever. Whoever

wants to be a volunteer, we put them through sixteen hours of training, and then send

them into the classrooms, and then we support them along the way, but there’s education

going on at every level.

And is the volunteer the person who’s also responsible for developing the service

learning program, or mostly the person who’s responsible for the first semester?

The volunteers run the service learning aspect of it as well. I would say that they need

more support in the second ten weeks, in the service learning section, because it is tough

to brainstorm with students, and they may come up with all sorts of really amazing ideas,

and then in an hour a week, how many of those are actually feasible. And so it ends up

really needing to be a collaboration with the classroom teacher as well, because maybe

that classroom teacher in that class is ready to do a project that’s much bigger than one

hour a week, and they’re going to spend time outside of the Peace Activities class

working on it, which is great. And that happens all the time. And yeah, the college-age

students need a little bit more coaching and feedback in terms of how to make sure that

the ideas that are coming from the students are shaped in a way that is going to allow the

students to be successful. So if they come up with some huge idea that they’re not going

to be able to complete, do you let them go with that, or do you help them change it a little

bit? And then we also talk about, what does it mean to be successful? Finishing a project

and having it be a product is not necessarily a symbol of success. Maybe it’s a success if

they built relationships with each other, the students continue to build relationships with

each other, and learn something about themselves, about each other, and about the world.

It depends also on what is considered success. And we spend a lot of time, not

necessarily answering or defining the answers to those questions, but just in conversation

with the volunteers surrounding those questions.

Would you say that the first semester is more or less or equally as structured as the

second semester? Also, what are the differences between the goals? You mentioned a

little bit of the difference between the description of what they’re focused on, but what

aspects are different?

The first semester, there are ten lesson plans that are super-detailed. The lesson plans are

ten pages for 45 minutes. Every little step of how is this game played, and how do you

explain it, and there’s little teaching tips about, like, ask the teacher about their procedure

for moving students from their tables to the rug, and different little things, as well as the

goals for what is going to be addressed. And the first ten weeks, their focus is really on

skill-building, knowledge-building and relationship-building amongst the students. So

giving them peace-making skills, knowledge and relationships. And then the second

semester is the opportunities. What’s the point of giving students the first three, if they

don’t actually have any opportunities within their lived, everyday lives, to be

peacemakers. The second semester curriculum, there’s actually only four lessons written,

even though it’s a ten-week session. So the first four lessons are meant to build up the

process of, what is a brainstorm, how do we define our community, what are we going to

do in our community? Let’s do some research and come back with more. And then, after

that, its much more free-flowing. What you do depends on what its going to take to do

the project.

To whatever extent you can off-hand, can you describe what the skills knowledge and

relationships, and the objectives within the ten weeks, and then what are the initial stages

of the service learning, and what do they look like?

I can’t describe all of those things, because it’s different for every grade-level, and there

are ten lessons for kindergarten through eighth grade, so that’s ninety lessons. But for the

first ten weeks, I can give you an overview. The kindergarten curriculum is “I’m

special.” It’s about everyone being unique. Every lesson has vocabulary words that are

learned, as well as games that are played. Every lesson is looking at knowledge, the

presentation of new ideas, as well as the cooperation skills, teamwork skills, I’d say self-

awareness skills, although that’s not necessarily laid out in terms of what’s written, but

that’s something that I think of a lot. First grade, we start talking about feelings.

Children do lots of different feelings games, recognizing different feelings. Talking about

anger, what do we do when we’re angry, how do make ourselves feel better, how do we

make other people feel better? Introducing vocabulary like “coping,” which is a pretty

advanced vocabulary word, but the first graders get it in the context of, we’re talking

about, “what does it mean to be a peacemaker? It means learning how to cope with your

own anger and helping your friends cope with theirs sometimes, among other things.

Second grade is friendship. What does it mean to be a friend, how do friends treat each

other, how do you say you’re sorry, do friends ever fight, what happens when friends

fight? Fifth grade is taking a stand, standing up for what you believe in, how do you do

that? It’s more activism based. Sixth grade is culture, gender and identity. Eighth grade

is mediation. It totally spans the spectrum of content, and the games and activities span

from a feelings dance to drawing a picture of your family and how your family is unique,

to skits about conflict, to sixth grade learning about gender, identity and culture, and it

goes back to when you were like “everyone’s family is special and unique and different,

and now we’re going to talk about it in a little bit more complex of a way.” Second

semester, service learning curriculum- to be honest, I haven’t taught it yet, so I’m not

super familiar with it, although I get to support the volunteers who are teaching it this

coming semester, so it’s exciting.

You mentioned the first semester, the development of knowledge, as being one of the key

components to all the different feeling games, vocabulary games, activities, and

initiatives. How would you describe the kind of knowledge that you, as someone who

would work with students, would be trying to help them to construct, and how would you

define the goals of you or the other teachers that you work with, how would you define

their conception of the kind of knowledge that they would like students to come away

with? Basically, what is knowledge?


It’s kind of interesting, because our curriculum is actually standards-based, and part of

what makes it attractive to schools is that the lessons often align with certain content or

knowledge areas that teachers are expected to address in those years. In that way, it’s not

necessarily that different. It’s different because the pedagogy is through cooperative

games and discussions, but the content is sort of integrating what students are already

expected to be learning with peacemaking. You can take anything, and ask, what does

that have to do with peacemaking, and where else might we learn these skills? What are

we learning? Why is it important to be able to recognize what tone of voice we’re using

and when would you want to think about something like that? On the other hand, one of

the things that I think is really cool about the Peace Activities curriculum is that it creates

a common language within the school about how to talk about what’s going on. One of

the most cliché but great types of language that we use is talking about escalators and

deescalators, or escalating and deescalating a conflict. We start doing that as early as

second or third grade, and it keeps coming back, because students are talking about

“What is a conflict, and is it always bad, or is it sometimes good, and what can come out

of it? And how do you escalate the situation, how do you make it worse, and also how do

you deescalate it, how do you make it better?” and coming up with different ways of

doing that. You’ll be around school and kids are hanging out and playing and maybe

they’re fighting, or maybe they’re arguing, and you have a teacher being like, “What’s

going on? What happened?” And the kids are like “Well, this happened, and then she

was escalating it because she did this, and I tried to deescalate it by doing this, but then I

just got upset too.” They’re using a language that now, all of the students and all of the

teachers in the school know, because everyone has this curriculum. So there’s a common

way of thinking, or at least a common language that people use together when they’re

thinking about addressing conflict and also just making their school a better place and

being peacemakers in their school.

You brought up the point of standards, firstly, how is the organization of the curriculum

for your program designed around the standards? And is it designed with the standards in

mind, or is it designed with peacemaking in mind and then aligned to the different

standards based on the city where it’s implemented?

First of all, the curriculum is the same in New York, Boston, and LA. And I imagine that

the standards are not all the same, but perhaps there are things that exist in all of them,

I’m not sure. The curriculum is designed with the goal of creating peacemakers. The

alignment of standards has to do with the belief that everything can be taught, that

peacemaking can be taught in any subject area, and that teachers can learn from different

ways of approaching the same subject matter, and that that then spreads through the rest

of their teaching. That is not what we do best. We could do that better than we do. I,

personally, think that we could do that much better than we do, and that a peace education

program needs to address how to integrate peace education into other subject areas more

directly, as well as teaching peacemaking as its own content area. But the goal is to have

a peacemaking curriculum, and the fact that its standards based makes it more viable.

And if you’re going to set aside 45 minutes of your day once a week or an hour of your

class time once a week, and there’s already all this pressure, it’s much easier to do so

when you know that your students are also learning things that they’re supposed to be

learning, in your mind, as a teacher… they’re not going to be tested on their peacemaking

skills, so why should we put 45 minutes aside to do that? Who knows, but maybe I think

it’s a good idea, but I don’t have time. But this way, it’s a good idea and its actually

reinforcing the rest of the work that teachers are doing. So it just makes it more tenable.

So would you describe it more of a marketing strategy than a direct concern in the

development of the program?

It’s a marketing strategy, but the reality is that you can’t teach peacemaking without

relating it to everything else, and there’s no reason to teach peacemaking as isolated from

anything: reading, writing, math, science. The standards connections are more in terms

of literacy, but social studies as well. How are you going to talk about peacemaking if

you’re not going to talk about the rest of the world around you, and that’s what we teach

about, so obviously its connected.

Can you describe your particular role?

I’m a Peace Activities program specialist in New York, so there’s a few different aspects

to my job. One of them is to support a peace activities school that has already had three

years of a peace activities coordinator and no longer gets a peace activities coordinator,

but is supposed to be doing all this on their own at this point. I spend one or two days a

week there, I still support the volunteers, I still connect with teachers, we’re doing less

work with families… The students don’t come to me looking for someone who will

mediate something, which they shouldn’t really have done with the peace activities

coordinator either, but nature of someone being in a school for three years full time, of

course people are going to go to that person as though they’re a member of the school

community, and if that person is especially good at being a role model at how to work

things out in a peaceful way, then people are going to go to them, and that makes sense.

But the school is doing really great, and the volunteers that we have working there have

been working there for the past three years already, so they have the relationships with

the kids, the relationships with the teachers, they know the curriculum really well, and

they’re doing an amazing job keeping it going. I also write some curriculum for other

stuff, and do professional development at other schools, that don’t have peace activities

but want a series of trainings for their teachers on how to use cooperative games and have

a more peacemaking approach or philosophy.

Can you describe your role in a classroom, either working with teachers or working with


At this point, right now, I teach two classes a week. One of them is a dual language,

Spanish-English class to first graders. We just started teaching that class. The curriculum

is about feelings, first grade, and it’s fun, because the teacher is also really excited about

us teaching in Spanish, but the students don’t all speak Spanish, so we’re doing a lot of

Spanish/English back and forth. Like I said, you can’t learning anything without learning

other things at the same time. So we’re talking about feelings, and they’re learning

English and they’re learning Spanish, and how to have vocabulary around feelings in

both languages, which is awesome. The other class I teach is actually a middle school

club, and they chose to have a peace activities club- the teachers did- and they were like,

“Hey, you want to come teach it?” And we were like, “we don’t have people at that

time.” I kind of got roped into it, and it was pretty tough at first, but it’s turning out

better. We’re basically just playing games, and we try to start out with some more issue-

based games, so games that simulate culture clashes or games that just go a little bit

deeper into issues, and then we finish the class off just playing games. It’s cool because

it’s a 6th, 7th, 8th grade club, and those kids don’t know each other or really have any other

place where they interact, and this is a chance for them to… if all we do there is build

relationships amongst them, its still valuable. It’s kind of tough, it’s a Friday afternoon at

the end of the day, and it’s a club, so everybody’s like “Oh, it’s play time!” But it’s fine,

it’s good, we play games in both classes, have interesting conversations sometimes.

Is there the same kind of trajectory of that club that there is in the three-year program? I

would imagine that the fact that they don’t necessarily have the second part of the

curriculum may make a difference.

In the club, they’re not curriculum-based at all. We wanted to do a service project with

them and were attempting to set it up. We had a pretty cool set-up process and then got

to a point at which the students voted to play games instead of doing one of the service

projects that they had brainstormed. I can tell you more about that process if you want…

We played a game called cross-the-line, where everybody stands along a line, and we

read out statements, and they crossed the line of the statements were true for them. It was

like, cross the line if you have brown eyes, and then it became a little bit more high-risk,

like cross the line if you’ve ever felt scared to go to school, cross the line if you’ve ever

stolen something, cross the line if you think that this upcoming election will have an

impact on your life. The last question was cross the line if you think your voice matters.

Then we had a conversation about the game, and what it means to say, “I think my voice

matters,” and about how to make our voices matter and how to make a difference. Then

we divided into smaller groups and brainstormed projects about what we might,

potentially do over the course of the next six or seven weeks that might make a difference

in our world. Then that class ended- we got kicked out of our space early or something.

The following week, we were going to come back and have each group present their

ideas and give everyone little dots- we would put everyone’s ideas up around the room,

and we would give them dots so that they could go and stick dots on the ideas that they

liked, voting visually rather than raising hands. Then we were going to pick out the ideas

that had the most dots, so that we could have a little bit more of a conversation so we

could vote on which one we wanted to follow up on.

What were some of the ideas?

There were lots of interesting ideas. Some of them did not understand what a service

project was. Mostly sixth graders, because sixth graders come in- it’s a middle school- so

they come in and they’ve never had peace activities before, whereas the seventh and

eighth graders have, and have probably done a service project before. We didn’t

necessarily do a great job explaining it. Some of the ideas: make the playground more

beautiful, do an anti-smoking campaign at school, an anti-racism campaign, go to an

animal shelter, feed the homeless, do fundraising events for… there was a list: Sudan,

Ethiopia, Ecuador, every developing country that they knew and could write down.

There was a big argument about whether Ethiopia was a country or not. Those were

some of the concrete ideas. So some were in the school, and some were outside of the

school. Some were in New York, and some were in the world, which was a pretty

interesting scope.

It sounds really cool. So for kids of different ages, and particularly their involvement in

the program, it sounds like it makes a big difference in terms of the way they think about

what kinds of opportunities all the way from within themselves and their feelings within

their interpersonal relationships all the way to a global scale. You started talking a little

bit about the difference between the kids who are just coming into schools that offer

peace activities, and students who have been more exposed to it over a year and have an

opportunity to go through the process before. How would you describe their different

degrees of ability to take these more abstract ideas: the idea of developing a common

language within their school, or within their relationships, to developing projects through

which- like your project was designed to do- helping them to see what it meant to have

their voices heard? What do you see as being the process of students developing their

voices- time frame as well as thought process?

I spent some time in a seventh grade class this year, and it’s a really awesome peace

activities class, and I wonder if its because its their second year and they’re starting to

really get it, and also they’ve sort of done it before, but now its more challenging and

different and better. That said, the eighth grade class is sort of a disaster right now. I

don’t know. In terms of their involvement- I think they get it. We’re in sort of a tough

situation in the school where I work. We have only one middle school program in New

York, and it’s the school where I work. They function on a trimester system. They for

some reason decided to have a rotation such that every student gets peace activities, but

only for one trimester, and therefore, they do an extended version of the first ten weeks.

It’s sort of up to the classroom teacher and the peace activities teachers in that particular

class to figure out how they want to integrate a service project, if they want to do that.

And sometimes it’s a much smaller scale project. So one example is that the kids in the

class have written their own cooperative game, and have written a cooperative games

book for the school. Other things, they may go down to the elementary school and teach.

The older kids teach a peace activities class for the younger kids, or spend time at the

recess for the elementary school kids. So they’re much smaller scale projects, that I think

are valuable on an interpersonal level, and empowering to a certain extent, but not

necessarily as powerful as they could be. But I think, at the same time, that the middle

school students are being prepared to be peace makers even if they’re not being given the

opportunities that they might otherwise have, that the program might give them. I don’t

know, it’s frustrating, our middle school curriculum is sort of, generally recognized by all

the peace activities staff as the weakest program that we have.



The curriculum is just not as strong. There was kindergarten through fifth grade

curriculum created first, and middle school curriculum was created as an after-thought,

after we started working with middle schools. Four years ago, I was a volunteer with

peace activities and I taught an eighth grade class, and we made up the curriculum as we

went along. We made up our own thing. We didn’t have a curriculum to work off of. I

think the middle school curriculum was written only two or three years ago. I think it

was thrown together over a summer. And it’s a much tougher age-group to work with, I

think, and the curriculum needs to be stronger than the rest, not weaker. So that’s sort of


You spoke to a lot of the dilemmas in the middle school piece, and one really important

one. It also shows that to see the development of how these things are going, there are a

lot of factors. How the students are evolving and how their thought-processes are

changing with regard to thinking about opportunities to think about how to use the things

that they’re learning, there’s a lot of other variables in the program, in the curriculum, as

well as in the implementation of the program that make it hard to assess.

I also think that, especially at that age, it has a lot to do with what else is going on around

the kids. And 45 minutes or an hour a week is only so much. The kids at Hudson, at the

school where I work, are getting some of the awareness from their teachers and from the

school as a whole, which is great. And the ideas that they came up with in the brainstorm

really does speak to how much capacity they already have to think about these things,

which is awesome. And as 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, they are in a position to have a little bit

more ownership of their lives, and to seek out information on their own, whereas, if you

look back at 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade, who’s telling you that what you do matters to someone

else? That’s a very new idea- the idea of service learning, the idea of helping to make

your community a better place is really novel and something that has to be really

carefully guided. It still needs more guidance. It still needs to be carefully guided in 6th,

7th, and 8th grade, but I think that one can do a little more planting the ideas and the seeds

and see where students take it, whereas in 2nd grade, that doesn’t quite work.

Clearly, the idea of peacemaker is an important role that your program is trying to inspire

students to take on in society. Would you say that there are metaphors for the kind of

students your program is trying to educate, or produce? What kind of role in society-

there’s obviously a lot of civic components, in addition to professional components that

the program is focused on really working with students to develop. Is it explicit, or is it

implicit, or is it neither, what kind of role in society your program is trying to prepare

students for?

It’s really interesting. I think that you’ve put your finger on something that I find one

of the more problematic things, which is that I don’t know that we have a vision of

our students as adults, and what role they play in society as adults. However, its

very much focused on the children as children, the youth as youth, and the idea that

the sort of tag-line or description when you go in to talk about it is that the program

was founded fifteen years ago during a spike in youth violence, and the media was

talking about children and youth as the victims of violence, as the perpetrators of

violence, and bystanders. Peace activities was created as another option which is the

idea that children, young people, can be peace makers in their own lives. That they don’t

have to… their only options are not to be a victim, to be a perpetrator, or to be a

bystander. That they also have the option to intervene in some way, or to participate in

turning their lives and their world and the situation around them into something more

peaceful. I think that that is a very powerful metaphor- its not a metaphor, but frame of

mind, way of thinking about it. It’s not necessarily enough, but the idea that our children

are not our problems, but rather that they are the resources. That their families… that

looking at all of these things as resources rather than as problems. That given the right

set of tools and knowledge and skills, that they have the power to make their own world

better. And that that education has to start as early, if not earlier than education in math,

reading, writing, and everything else starts. Because you wouldn’t start teaching a kid

math in sixth grade, why would you wait until sixth grade to start teaching a kid about

how to be a peace maker? So it’s really about kids, for kids right now- today, in your life,

how are you a peace maker? How will you be a peacemaker? How can you be a

peacemaker? How have you been a peacemaker? How could you deal with the situation

in a way that makes it turn out more peacefully? It’s very immediate, and it’s very much

about believing that kids have the power to do that. In terms of long-term, societal

engagement, I don’t think that there’s a vision of where these kids go. I don’t know.

It sounds, based on the way you’ve described it, both with regard to the first ten weeks

having been scripted and intensely more deliberately, and in all respects, you’ve

described the early stages with elementary students as being more scripted than the later

stages with middle school students. But also, within each year, the first ten weeks as

being much more- you described the scripted nature of it, but I think you also eluded to

the fact that it was just more thought-out and thought through than the service learning

point. That the volunteers need more help, but that that help is not necessarily always

present. Even you yourself have been involved in the program for almost a year now,

haven’t had the opportunity to be involved in that element of it as the program specialist.

So it seems that, on a more theoretical level, the idea that there isn’t necessarily a vision

for the next step. It seems like it’s a lot about present role: games, current context of

having students work with each other in their schools, developing common language

within schools, and that that future piece is more undefined. Is that something that the

program has identified, or individual educators within the program are working towards

developing, or is that something that is not especially focused on?

Right now, we’re in the middle of a whole strategic planning process, and what we’ve

identified is that we already do too much to do it all well. We should be doing less, and

we should be doing it in a more focused way. Our service learning curriculum definitely

needs more work. We’re partnering with some organizations out in California that have a

lot of experience doing service learning work. I love working with middle school. I

don’t know that we should be working with middle school. We have no idea what we’re

doing in our work with families. We shouldn’t be working with families. Our scope is

actually getting smaller in order to do what we do better, rather than expanding in order

to reach farther and wider because we want to do what we can do really well, and there

are lots of different programs out there, and they’re all doing different things. And it’s

only going to be sustainable to the extent that we are at the highest quality of what we’re

doing, that its replicable, that it’s marketable, that its valuable for the schools and for the

students. People are looking at it from a business perspective because we have to. And

also from a justice perspective for kids, and what is fair to spend their time on, and what

is valuable. And if we’re not good at something, it’s not really fair to be spending our

time doing it with them. There’s a lot of thought that is going in to, and has gone into all

that. And then, how do we implement a new program model is what is in the process of

being decided right now. But we’re definitely not on our way to figuring out how to

work with high schools or colleges- I mean, we work with colleges. But, it’s tough

because there are kids who have graduated at this point, and we’ve been thinking about

creating an alumni club, which could be really valuable for that group of kids. And how

could you not want to do something like that. There are relationships built… these are

kids that you’ve invested three years in, and these are kids that need a lot of support, and

they’ll need a lot more skill building, and a lot more opportunities in their lives, and we

could maybe do that. But that would be another whole program area that we would be

starting. Peace activities is sort of this interesting organization that is in some ways

pretty organic, but is, in some ways, on the verge of falling apart because of it at this

point. Because whoever answers the phone- Peace activities does different things based

on who answers the phone. So if someone answers the phone, and someone is like, “Oh,

hi! We’re thinking about- the Colombian Ministry of Education wants to meet with some

Peace activities people to see if we can use Peace activities as our model for citizenship

competencies.” And one person will be like, “Yes, of course!” and another person will

be like, “No, we don’t do that. Sorry.” That’s what happens, and there’s all these

different people with amazing, great ideas and a lot of inspiration and a lot of motivation,

and here in New York, the former Peace activities coordinator at the school where I work

now is like, “We should have an alumni club.” And that sounds great to me. I would

love to have a youth group, alumni club with kids who are now in high school, but that’s

not my job, and I am already doing a lot of other things, and it’s not fair to the kids to do

that in a half-assed sort of way. And it’s also sort of not fair not to do anything. So what

do you do? I don’t know.

As someone who has done this work both with them and in other capacities for a while,

and who has studied it, and has been really involved in the work that you’re doing, what

would you say are the obstacles for the educators in the program, as well as the

organizers, the administrators, the coordinators, and so on- you already mentioned a

couple, working with families, and too big a scope, lack of cohesion or collective

message- you’ve mentioned a few, but what would you say are the central, and most

pressing obstacles for the people who are in positions of leadership in the organization,

and within schools, towards achieving the vision that they have. I guess one of the

benefits of the organic nature is that individuals can have different visions within the

program that are all aligned under a broader umbrella, but still organically developed and

not imposed. But what are the obstacles that people feel, yourself included, that either

get in the way of allowing them to achieve their own goals or the goals of the program?

I think that my answer is going to be really lame, because it’s sort of everyone’s answer

in education. But especially for the college volunteers, the hardest part… Well, there are

few things that are difficult, but the hardest part in terms of teaching is classroom

management, especially because oftentimes the teachers don’t think- they’re like, “Oh,

look, I have a 45 minute break now.” So they sit in the back and do something else, and

don’t pay attention, and so the kids think it’s time to… And we’re doing activities that

are outside the norm, that do require us to be silly sometimes. So it’s a very delicate

balance between creating a space that’s safe, in which you can play games that are a little

bit higher risk. That’s a constant struggle for any teacher, and especially in classes where

the teacher isn’t a strong teacher, then the kids are out of control in the first place, and

then its very difficult for peace activities teachers to teach. And then in other classes the

peace activities teachers come in and the teacher is a huge disciplinarian and yells at the

kids a lot, and then that butts up against the things that the peace activities teachers are

trying to teach. So there’s sort of this constant dance around loving and peaceful control

of the classroom in terms of creating a space that is safe enough in which students can

have interesting conversations that talk about things that are a little bit harder to talk

about, like feelings, or like culture and identity, and where people can play games where

they’re touching each other, and where they’re expected to be moving in a space together.

I think that’s probably the toughest day-to-day. The other tough day-to-day stuff is for

volunteers, just hearing the realities of the lives of some of the students that they work

with and processing that and coming to terms with it, and also processing- I have one

volunteer, for example, who’s really dedicated to education and to her students, and is

really distraught every time she leaves one of her classes by the relationship that the

teacher in that classroom has with her students. But it’s a one-two bridge class, special

ed, so it’s a 12-1-1 or something. But I think that there’s a teacher and two paras in there,

and the teacher and the paras don’t get along and the teacher has absolutely no- has not

created a structure in her classroom, so the kids flip out, which is really physically unsafe

for everyone in that space. And the paras are much more, yelling and disciplinary, I don’t

know. I’m talking to volunteers after they come out of a situation like that, and they’re

like, “How am I supposed to teach kids how to anything, in a classroom where they

clearly are never safe in that classroom. They’re flipping out because they’re never feel

safe in that classroom. So how do we talk about feelings, or how do we talk about

emotions of any sort, or friendship or any of these interesting subjects, or how do we play

a game when who knows if Jasheem is going to flip out on Joshua?” Four Peace

activities teachers teach that class together, and the last week, the class ended with each

of them holding back, holding onto at least one or two of the children so that they didn’t

hurt each other, emotionally or physically. So the realities of education are still the

everyday struggles. Just because we’re talking about peacemaking, doesn’t mean that all

of a sudden we’re great peacemakers, or that all of a sudden we’re doing to pay attention

because it’s so fascinating. The students love when their peace activities teachers come,

because it’s someone new, and someone interesting, and someone different, and it’s peace

activities, and peace activities is fun, and we play games. But that doesn’t mean they

always listen, or are always on the same page by any means. It’s very normal.

Do you think that the students apply what they learn in peace activities to other elements

of their lives? Or do you have any examples of that happening?

Yeah, definitely. Like I said before, using language that they learned in peace activities

about escalating or deescalating a conflict, being aware of their tone of voice, saying

sorry, especially in the service, we spend a lot of time practicing compliments, and what

it means to say something nice to another person, especially in the younger grades. And

then they do that. And in the younger grades, in the kindergarten and first grade classes,

oftentimes their service learning project will be a compliment book or compliment cards

where they thank and compliment all of the school staff, the custodial staff and the

cafeteria staff, and the office staff. And those are little things. In the older grades, in the

seventh grade class a few weeks ago, they were talking about anger, and coping, on a

little bit more of an in-depth level, and one of the girls said that she cuts herself when

she’s angry and that’s how she copes. And the peace activities teachers were like,

“Ummm, Ms. O’Shea… Your turn!” And the following week, I was in the class with

them, and Ms. O’Shea, who’s crazy but wonderful, said, “We talked about a lot of things

last week, and you guys are doing a really amazing job. One person who was having a

lot of trouble with anger has started writing in a journal and is doing much better.

Another student had been attacked at lunch the day before, and had chosen not to react

physically, but instead left the situation and went back to her classroom, and told her

teacher, and said, “This is what happened, and I don’t know why. I don’t think I did

anything to escalate it.” She was a peacemaker, in that she did not respond violently to

the situation. And those are things that the school is, overall, a much more calm and

peaceful place, with less fighting and less violence, than it was four years ago, according

to teachers and the principal. The lunchroom is a safe space to be in, the yard is fun. And

kids talk, kids use their peace activities language in their everyday lives. And it’s funny

to hear a second grader say, “I’m coping by… I need you to give me a hug so I can cope

better. I’m feeling angry.” Or a third grader talk about deescalating a situation. But

yeah, they definitely- it’s not all the time, and it’s not everywhere, but especially when

it’s reinforced over the years. At this point, the fourth graders have had peace activities

since first grade, and that’s powerful. And it’s all over the school. There’s peace

activities people painted and there’s murals, and it’s very much been embraced by the

school. And I think it carries a lot of meaning for the students, and the teachers.

Especially for the students, but the teachers too. But the teachers kind of have their own

one-track minds on what their job is, which ideally is broader than just getting the kids to

pass the test. But some of them really take it to heart, and others are like, “OK, I’m going

to sit here and do nothing for a little while.” But for the most part, they really are very

bought in.

How integral is the program coordinator being in a school to the effective working of the

individual classes, and to what extent do you think that if the classes were split up, a

couple in one school, and couple in another school, do you think that would take away

from the effectiveness overall?

We’re going to find out how important the program coordinator is, because in our new

strategic plan, we don’t have program coordinators. So we’re going to find out if that

works or not. I do think that it’s really important to have everyone in the same school

have peace activities classes, because there’s sort of a critical mass such that, if I’m using

language with you that you’ve never heard before, then it doesn’t hold as much weight as

if I’m like, “I’m going to be a peacemaker right now.” And you’re like, “Oh, right, I

know what that means.” In New York, we’re talking about, the new strategic plan

clusters schools in groups of five, and we start in five schools at the same time, rather

than in one school at a time, randomly. And in New York, we’re thinking about doing

that geographically and neighborhood-based, so that we can have a critical mass affect on

the whole neighborhood, as opposed to just in the school, such that students leave their

schools and they can continue to have a shared language around peace making in their

communities, which is pretty exciting. Again, we’ll see how that works.

Interview with Edwin M.
Teacher Organizer, NYCORE
Former Elementary School Teacher
PhD Candidate, CUNY Graduate Center
Associate Professor/Advisor CUNY, NYU
November 11th, 2008

You taught in the past, but you’re not currently teaching now, right?

I’m not teaching now, but I was an elementary school teacher. I taught second grade and

fourth grade, and before that, I had experience student teaching in fifth grade classrooms

and a lot of field work in my undergrad in different schools.

And right now, in what capacity are you?

So, now I’m a doctoral student in urban ed here [at the CUNY Graduate Center]. In

addition, I supervise student teachers for NYU and I teach courses on bilingual education

and multicultural education, so a lot of my work now is more focused on developing

critical consciousness among incoming, new teachers. That’s what I’m doing now, but

before that, I was in the classroom.

And do you have a particular approach that you’re using or teaching, or are you

implementing a more general methodology?


I mean, I think I operate under certain principles in terms of what I’m attempting to do.

The type of work that I would like to engage students in, which is the same thing that I

was doing with elementary school kids, in the sense that I never thought that it was my

position to indoctrinate kids into a certain way of life but to not be hidden by my biases

and my agenda. I tried to be very explicit with families, with kids, and now with my

graduate and undergraduate students. Here’s my stance on it. It doesn’t mean you have

to accept it, but I want us to engage in this approach, and at the end of the day it’s up to

you if you want to take it on and assume it or grapple with it, that’s better for me, but

those kinds of things, but those were what I thought was my general approach in a

practical sense. From a theoretical perspective, are you also asking about that?

Both, yes.

From a theoretical perspective, I think that comes from, I’ve been influenced mostly by

Dewey, and Vygotsky, and Freire and the critical pedagogy people. Each of those, I’ve

kind of tried to merge together in terms of a larger understanding of a social justice

approach to teaching, to thinking about the world. Kind of in that Ghandian sense of

being that which you want to see in the world. Trying to conduct my life in such a way,

but also trying to conduct my teaching in that way. In the Deweyan sense of this idea of

Democracy, of participation, and engagement in learning, which I think directly connects

with both Vygotsky in the sense of a social constructivist notion of what it is to learn, a

theory of mind, a very material perspective on understanding that we’re always situated

in a social structure, and what do we do with that, and how does that shape our thinking

as much as our thinking and action then shape the structures, both individually and as

collectives. And then Freire I think really flips it around in the sense of what does it

mean to act and think critically when the structures themselves are oppressive, and really

thinking about what does that mean for a fourth grader, what does that mean for a second

grader, what does that mean for an undergraduate student, and what kinds of engagement

and possibilities we can generate together, as opposed to… my role being more as

problem poser and facilitating inquiry, and also providing, in a Vygotskian sense, another

sphere… I don’t want to say… Sometimes I have problems with this “expert other” that

Vygotsky talks about, but I think there is something to the effect that I, as an adult, have a

different set of tools and experiences to offer in a classroom, in a site of learning and

hopefully organizing any kind of resistance or social change that people want to engage


You covered a lot of the points that I’m trying to grapple with in my thesis, and just in my

teaching in general, and I’m interested in how you see this process… You were talking

before about the relationship between the process that you engage in with students, and

the process with teachers. Can you talk more about what the process looks like with

students and with teachers, and what are the relationships there. Are there some key

beginning moments? You talk a lot about structures, and understanding our place within

the structures, but also understanding how our actions impact those structures and can

change them and potentially resist them. That implies several stages of helping students

buy in to them first, or take them on, and then later… I’m curious as to how you see that

process emerging.

Yeah, you know, probably my biggest caveat is I still see myself as learning, in terms of

how to enact this on a very regular basis, trying to sort these things out… I would like to

return to the classroom or some kinds of settings where I’m working with younger people

than I am now. But even in the work I do then, and when I supervise, I’m still going

through these questions that you’re asking. For me right now, it’s a lot about, in terms of

steps, really going back to Freire a little bit, in terms of how do we create a critical

consciousness? How do we present information and provide experiences for students,

particularly with younger students, but also I’m finding more and more with

undergraduate and with graduate students, providing them with experiences and

approaches to learning that, in and of themselves are resistances to this banking model,

efficiency oriented type of teaching, which I think also has a very strong hold on the

actual content of the curriculum. Am I getting at your question?

Yes, and take whatever path to it that seems right.

I think it’s indicative of my own process that I’m going through, in terms of, what is it

that we’re doing? What is our project? The other piece of it, that maybe I didn’t mention

or wasn’t explicit about when I was talking about the theories that underpin my thinking,

is this aspect of multiculturalism, in the sense that there’s cross-cultural, intercultural

hybridity that occurs in the classroom with the students and who they are, but also with

the variety of ways of being and knowing that I can potentially present to young people,

or to learners so that they are forging their own sense of how they’re going to operate in

the world. For me, in terms of initial steps, it’s really trying to think about, first, this idea

of understanding one another and understanding self, how do I function in a classroom?

What does the school and classroom community look like? What has been my

experience? Unpacking the culture of the school itself that we are situated in, whether it

be a university or an elementary school, each of them perpetuates a certain ideology

about learning, about what’s accepted, about the voice of students themselves, about the

voice of teachers. So really spending a lot of time getting them to think about that, and

how to speak to one another, and how to listen. A lot of that, to me, is what Freire talked

about in terms of being able to read the word and the world. So it’s literacy practices, it’s

understanding each other in the variety of ways that we might be a text, like our physical

communication, our emotional communication, how all of those things play out are all

implicated, and those are the building blocks of the project itself, and setting out the

groundwork for the eventual things that we may come across. Hopefully, the next phase

is the tension between my agenda, and the agenda of the students, and the agenda of the

power structure itself. So here are all these things at play. I think in my most ideal and

optimistic perspective, I see this opportunity for an organic growth, an emerging

curriculum, people used to say… I feel like that’s been dropped, that notion, but that

notion that these things would come about through our inquiry, and that’s what it’s about.

And that goes back to Dewey, really thinking about, what are our questions? What are

the things that we’re wondering about? If we’ve started to read ourselves, and read the

world, and read the word, what questions can we start asking? What problems can we

pose? So I think having to balance that with understanding that there are mandated

things, and there are certain expectations that fourth graders need to know how to do X,Y,

and Z. The work of the teacher in the classroom is limited, and I think we need to

understand that, but then we have to understand what are our strategies for first

subversiveness, but then actually starting to transform the actual content and the things

that we can do in the classroom to create more liberation within the school space, and to a

large extent the world, but even just thinking about this unit of analysis. Just this one

spot, how do we create more liberation here, from an intellectual perspective. For me,

once we start to build community, I tried to use some of the tools that were provided to

me, or mandated to me, like the backwards design model, Understanding by Design,

Wiggins and McTighe, I think are useful, in the sense that they’re asking us to think

about some of these things, these essential questions, these enduring understandings. I

use that as an opportunity to ask some of those questions that I thought were more

powerful and more provocative, but that also take more time for young children and

adults to even wrap their heads around. One of the things that I would do, would be to

have some sort of larger general question for the year or for the semester around, “What

is power, and how does it shape our lives?” And I would try to bring, not always

successfully, but to interweave that question into our social studies work, our work in

math, our work in science, whatever content area. And even being interdisciplinary in

doing those things so that the question could come alive in terms of looking at power

from a scientific perspective, like electricity and that kind of power, but we can also look

at the politics of science. It’s like that movie, Who Killed the Electric Car? There’s a

power game going on right there, in the sense that the oil industry is resistant to the

electric car. Of course ten years down the road… Well, I digress. But those kinds of

questions, or I would ask, “What is a revolution, and how has it changed our life?” I use

that one to look historically at whether there was an indigenous cultural revolution when

we look pre-colonial? What was life like, and what was revolutionary, and how did, in

the process of colonization, indigenous voices create a revolution within the way even

this nation formed itself? If we look at the impact even on democratic rule, they had

some of those ideas already and, I would say, oftentimes better. So, how do we reframe

that not as solely colonialism, but that they have contributed in a way that were also acts

of resistance. They did things in their farming and their technology and in their way of

life then, that they continue on today, that we assume were just there when we got here,

but, no, no. People have generated these things from centuries. And then taking that into

revolution and resistance within the colonial period amongst Europeans, and we look at

the Quakers, and their role as resistance, and peace as a revolution, and what might that

mean? I never was able to get to it, but I really wanted to get to look at enslaved peoples

as this other major group during that period, when they’ve been forced to come. How

were they then having their own hybridity and revolution of culture because they’re a

diverse variety of people themselves, so they create certain things, and then what kinds of

resistance did they create in terms of doing that? The emergence of drumming, and the

emergence of other networks that were brought from their native lands, that then become

tools for the Underground Railroad or become, in the North, ways to signal certain

meetings in the evenings.

A lot of your questions, like, “What is power and how does it affect our lives?” I used at

the beginning of this curriculum that I’m teaching now. And a lot of these things that you

are talking about are things I am trying to use in my own work, so I have three questions,

and I guess take them in any order, or take whichever you prefer. You were talking about

the beginning of the process as being really learning to speak and listen to one another

and how each of us are texts that can be analyzed. My question would be, how do you

work with students to understand each other as a text, and how do you help them to

develop this idea of individual texts into a collective text? It goes back to reading the

word and the world, and these two ideas being very interdependent, how does the class

come to consciousness of the nature of the text that they build together? Another

question is, you mentioned the role of the mandated curricula, and using the mandated

curricula as tools, such as UbD, you mentioned the efficiency model both within the

process and content of teaching. I’m curious to know where you see the possibilities and

the limitations of where you see those tools as effective and where those tools become

constraints on the broader purpose of your teaching style, or I should say facilitation

style? The last question is the idea of action, and what part you see action as having

within this process that you’ve outlined. You’ve talked a lot more about the idea of

building consciousness and Freire takes for granted that where we build consciousness,

action will logically follow. And sometimes its true, but other times its not, and it also

doesn’t necessarily take into account the other limiting factors that are present.

Sometimes we can think freely, but whether we can act freely is largely dependent upon

the context of our environment. So the three themes are the idea of collective texts, the

idea of constraints, limitations and possibilities of the mandated curricula as tools, and

then the action component.

I’ll try to talk to all of them. The first one is probably the most difficult, which I think

often, the question of collectivity, which I think was often the most difficult to… Which

often made getting some of the other projects underway challenging. Most of my years

that I spent teaching, I would argue was a high performing school in a middle class

situation in NYC. But it was also a school that had traditionally been committed to

having a diversity within its population, in terms of socioeconomics as well as race and

ethnicity. It was interesting, because I was finding that you almost have to have two sets

of pedagogy for the students. And I find it similar in graduate school. How do we teach

to those who are privileged? How do we work with those who are in positions of power,

whether they know it or not? We talk about institutional forms of privilege and

oppression and… I found that to be the most challenging thing in terms of getting people

to see their collectivity when there’s diversity, in that sense, an almost invisible diversity

that becomes more divisive and fragmented because I think in many ways, many of the

kids and many of the parents perceived it as, “Oh, our school is diverse, so that means

we’re beyond race, or we’re beyond oppression and division.” But no, they weren’t there

on the day to day to see differences, to see the cliques that formed, who talked to who,

who was hanging out, because we would see students of color and poor students… not to

say that boundaries weren’t crossed, because they certainly were, but on the whole, I

would see a lot of times when there was tension that would operate in terms of what

culture was privileged by the school itself. The school, ideologically, while progressive

in its tradition, very much Deweyan, and Bank Street, and Developmental Interactionism,

while I was there, it became more and more about middle and upper class privilege, and

those ideas being the dominant ways of operating, while academically, you’d see the

statistics and see who’s getting left behind, the black and latino children and other

children of color, and poor children. So I’m saying all of this because, within this,

forging collectivity became a huge challenge for me that, as a young teacher, its where I

often dropped the ball. It’s one of the areas that I want to continue exploring to see how

do we bring people together around text, or around writing ourselves into our classroom.

Anne Dyson talks about that with young children, and how they write themselves into

Readers Theater. How does the curriculum then play? The curriculum becomes the

space for us to write ourselves, collectively, into the world, into the activities that we do-

do we develop in a collaborative way, and take those opportunities to start identifying our

differences and similarities and the asymmetrical positions in which we speak. I think

these are the kinds of things that I want kids to engage in and think about to the point that

they start to appreciate one another and call themselves out a little bit. Developmentally,

where is that? It’s a pretty sophisticated thing to be asking of kids. I also look for small

victories, like how they work to manage themselves. Students always knew with me, that

if they wanted to request to do something, even something simple like a party or

something more in depth like having a student body government in the classroom, and

running elections, that they could always fly it by me, and that we could have a

conversation about it, and that ultimately it would be up to them to organize and do it. In

that sense, there was a sense of empowerment and ownership over the entire formation of

the room and the classroom, and whatever kinds of projects we were working on. This is

something I want to continue exploring. Did those kinds of experiences lead them to

collectively work together, have some understanding of how they are leaving their mark

on this classroom community, and that their mark is equally valued as other marks and

other impressions and perspectives left on the classroom by other students and the

teacher? I would say that I kind of moved away from being totally student-centered, and

that I’m trying to rewrite the teacher back in, in the sense that, I think that if its

completely student-centered, it’s a little false consciousness on the part of the teacher, in

the sense that your voice is there, although it may not be physically there, it may be there

in the structures that are provided, in what resources are provided… I think about

Montessori, when they talk about the voice being in the blocks and in the materials. My

voice was in those materials, we used wood blocks in the upper grades. When you’d go

down the hall, in the fourth and fifth grade, aside from the woman I student-taught with

who I inherited the blocks from, it was very rare to find wood blocks in the classroom.

What was that about? That was my voice. The kinds of experiences, the kinds of things

that were provided… While trying to be student centered, I didn’t disregard that my

voice always had an impact in some way, whether it was in the materials, or my actual

voice stepping into conversations. The writing that we would do, and that kind of work.

The last piece, is that in the curriculum, I tried to do a lot of collective writing or

partnership writing. Even in the research, we would conduct inquiry and research

collectively. And even in that, I would also contribute to the writing and work with them

through the writing process and so the idea was that we learned to write together and to

support one another and also to have our own ideas and be free to think about other

components, where it’s just my voice. But then I’m also attached to this larger set of

voices that we sometimes work together, and we write things, and then there are other

times when I have my own space, and I can carve out some of the things that I want to

do, but always in relationship to others.

You speak to the difficulty of building a collective text among a diverse population. And

you briefly mention the role that you felt the school played in that. It brings to mind the

Thernstrom and Thernstrom text and the idea of color-blindedness. How would you

describe the school culture in relation to this idea, and as you discuss the voice being in

the structures, how does this notion from the school seep into the ability to create a

collective text? How did it impact your teaching?

It’s interesting, I was just reading Thernstrom and Thernstrom the other day. And it’s

interesting, because I was in a school were test-scores were actually quite good, for most

of my career. It’s an interesting, different set of pressures that are placed on them

because of the population, in terms of middle class and upper middle class parents, and I

don’t want to put it solely on the parents as much as also thinking about how the

bureaucracy and schools themselves are organized. It ends up catering to that, as

opposed to having a vision of its own. That’s what happened in my school site. The

school, historically, had actually been pretty much empty, with only the students from

local community projects being in the schools in the 80s, and knowing that was a

particular socio-economic and political time in New York. The neighborhood itself, right

around the school, was still predominantly upper and upper middle class, and many of

those children were not going to the public schools. Then a new leader came into the

school, and you know how much a difference a leader makes. The leader worked to

bring back the middle class into the school, and also worked to bring with her a vision,

which is where Bank Street comes into the equation, in that this particular leader had a

very strong sense of this notion of justice, this notion of constructivist, developmental

interactionist learning- those kinds of things, and putting those things in place in terms of

being a good school. And that these are the markers of a good school. And I think with

that, having a sense of being diverse and multicultural, in terms of the teaching itself, and

the content, and trying to see those things out. This was now twenty years ago. In

talking to my more veteran, longer-tenured teachers at the school, you see this change,

where leadership changed, but there was always this grooming process. But it always

seemed a little bit different, a bit watered down. One of the things to think about was that

although they worked to have staff diversity, it never really happened. It was

predominantly still white, middle class, people from the higher echelon universities, as

far as the teachers, but you see this seeping of the status-quo ideologies as far as what’s

appropriate behavior… And when I started student teaching there, the last of the

groomed principals retired, and there was a giant void in the school itself. There was an

ideological rift. And you see the impact of it now. In this age of neoliberalism, there was

a revolving door of principals, and one of them was appointed, and the parents actually

mobilized to get that principal out. They were successful, got another principal, and at

this point, teachers aren’t happy, and there’s no organizational memory of that vision. So

now, it’s become this kind of exclusive, uncritical perspective of maintaining high test

scores, and doing constructivist things, but without any sense of resistance to the larger

structures. The leadership and the culture has seemed to accept testing, and other things,

maybe not as good things, but just things as they are, and not really thinking about or

fostering reflection and discussion among the faculty, the students, or the families about,

is this quality education? Is this what children deserve? I don’t care who it is, in terms of

whether they be people of color, poor, or middle class and upper class whites. It’s almost

this kind of apathy that’s indigenous in many schools across the economic spectrum- it’s

like, this is the way things are, so we’re just going to operate almost as a bureaucracy just

to maintain things, as opposed to seeing schools as opportunities for possibility. And in

that apathy, it makes things like racism and classism invisible. It’s almost more

dangerous than overt racism. It’s the covert kind, and I think it’s the corporatization.

“Oh, you know, we have diversity of X, Y, and Z students, and we teach inclusively,” and

the rhetoric is all there, but it’s rhetoric that’s warped and unfounded. Are you really

doing that? Do you have a vision for social change that you want students to be coming

away with once they graduate in fifth grade, or if it’s another school, when they graduate

from high school- what’s that vision? It’s like when people say, “I believe that all

children can learn.” Well, that’s great, but to what ends? Is it so that they can participate

in a work force that is just service sector positions? Is it going to prepare them to

navigate those waves and those waters that they’ll be able to do right by their families,

themselves, and their communities? I don’t think so. And we’ve washed our hands of it

by just keeping the status quo. And that’s a problem. It’s this sublime, it’s this lazy

racism- lazy oppression. By not doing anything, you’re safe. But by not doing anything

you’re actually doing a great deal of damage. So I guess that’s kind of how I read the

school culture.

Wow, this could be like an eight hour interview!

Yeah, sorry, I’m a little long-winded. (laughing)

No, not because of that, but there’s so many of these key points that you’ve hit on that I

want so much to probe. And all these themes are going to be things that I try to draw out

in my thesis, so hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to do another interview where I can

be a little more focused about which of these will be most salient. But for the sake of this

conversation, one of the things that I’m working on is developing a service learning

program in a context that is a little more critical than it sounds like this school you’re

talking about- and I’ve been at schools in the past that use the language, use the rhetoric,

but like you were saying, it becomes almost more dangerous than it would if it were

overt. But as I am dealing with a service learning curriculum in which the assumption is

that there is racism, the assumption is that there is classism, the assumption is that there

are, in some cases hidden and in some cases overt structures of oppression, both within

the school and within the society more broadly- frees up the potential of addressing those

directly. I’m interested to know how you see, or whether you see this transition being

from collective text to engagement, action, and transformation- you were talking about

working with fourth graders and I’m working with seventh graders- Where do you see

the role of service learning within the broader context of education and to what extent do

you see action as being a necessary element of that- particularly when the action speaks

to notions of resistance that you’ve been talking about? What kinds of institutional

dilemmas do you see this potentially creating, and what do you see as the best ways to go

about addressing those?

First of all, I go back and forth with service learning as a construct, just because I feel

like, it’s been taken in so many directions. If we think about it from George Bush

Senior’s Thousand Points of Light, this volunteery aspect of service learning that I think

without an analysis can be very problematic. Not to say that’s what you’re doing, but just

laying out my cards, but I think we can still claim service learning as a potential space for

the kind work that I think I’ve described in our conversation here. Really, to me, I see

that as being essential to what I consider a high quality, holistic, kind of education for

children from early childhood to emerging adulthood and adolescence. I’ve been toying

with it and wrestling with the idea of it as service learning and social action as being part

of civic education. This idea that, in terms of trying to normalize action within education,

within my teaching, so that it doesn’t scare people. I think service learning, within the

language wars becomes something that people are more comfortable with, in terms of the

power structure, so that really you know what you’re doing, they might not. And I think

we’re at that point in time right now, politically, although I don’t know, post-Tuesday, are

there different opportunities for us to think about, you know, in this Obama, you being a

community organizer- I don’t know, I’m gonna wait and see on that one. But I think for

the last fifteen to twenty years, that’s been I think a viable move in order to not have your

legs taken out from under you in terms of doing the work that is most beneficial to

students, in terms of understanding what, going back to this critical consciousness,

developing a sense of self in the world, and then understanding that I can take action, not

by myself, or I can do certain things by myself, by I also can have, in collectivity an

impact on broader issues, or the things that I’m seeing or experiencing around not having

food for dinner. That’s a bigger issue than just me and my family. There a lot of people

in my community that suffer the same thing. We should do something about that. I think

service learning, as a project, can allow for that in a way that, on the surface can be safe

and not controversial for the powers that be. I guess this is me trying to be a realist

about, the power structures are daunting, the standards are daunting, but I think this

provides a space for, wait, let me start to negotiate this, and make some inroads, and then

you’ve got to come back with your hard data and say, “This is the impact that this has had

on my students,” so that you have a coherent argument for why this kind of work should

be not only a part of the school community, but an essential part, a core value… If we

don’t start to reclaim some of this civic engagement, it just becomes-going back to my

school culture- this apoliticization. And apoliticization is dangerous. It’s funny, bleeding

heart liberals or progressives are seen as almost having no values or morals, or things

like, oh, we’re pro-gay marriage, we’re not as precise as the neoconservatives. But to

me, they have a problem with us because we do have very clear values about humanity

and justice and having a humanistic perspective on how we care for each other, and they

see this as just kind of fluff. I’m like, no, no, these are some of the core values of a more

just, humane world. So I think it goes back to how do we start to reclaim some of these

things that have been taken? Diversity, as a term, has been taken. Multiculturalism has

been taken, or ignored. Community organizing has been taken, or seen as this terrorist

act. That to me just speaks to the power that we can foster. The other part of it that I was

thinking, is the learning part of it. My organization that I’m part of, NYCORE, we have

these study groups for teachers called inquiry to action groups, and that was an

intentional renaming what is basically a study group. But the piece that I think links up

to service learning, is that it’s informed action. That we participate as citizens and engage

in demanding our rights and laboring for social change first through analysis. We, as a

group of students, children, we’ve tried to make sense of this bigger issue, and this is

what we’ve come up with, and from this is where action will come from. Not just from,

I’m angry. But I was angry, so I went to go learn about it, and ask more questions, and

from that I saw that this was a problem, so we developed ways to respond to that

problem. That, to me, is why service learning, as a construct, can be useful, similar to

why an inquiry-to-action kind of construct can be useful. Because it isn’t just about

volunteering, but an informed way to organize and mobilize for action.

Everything you’ve said really strikes a chord with me. You’re articulating a lot of things

that I’ve thought before but haven’t been able to express in that way.

Me neither.

The language of course, of service learning, having been partially co-opted but that also

presenting a potential opportunity, as in community organizing right now, at least, post-

Tuesday, as you said. Service learning is something you talk about having done with

NYCORE, this inquiry to action progression, is the same progression that we’re doing in

the Critical Educator Network, the organization that I’m working with, as well as in the

service learning class that I’m doing, which is a supplementary educational program.

Which it should be.

And that’s exactly my question. There’s this little space, like you were saying. This little

space has been carved that gives this inquiry to action process a name. And the name

could potentially enable it to be co-opted by this kind of volunteerism, which may or may

not be useful- has certain uses that neither of us interpret to be service learning- but how,

in the past, have you worked in schools or institutions where that is the core, or have you

been exposed to places or people, or your own experiences in which you feel that has

been a center of what’s going on, and if so, how has that transition from being a

supplemental volunteerism to being an ingrained part of who we are and what we do in

our vision. And if not, do you have thoughts on how that movement could happen? Do

you have thoughts on how we could take it from these organizations that we’re working

with that are seen as seen, in some cases as radical or fringe, into a core part of the


I was going to say that the school where my wife works in East Harlem had a tradition,

and again, they’ve experienced a similar thing to what my school has experienced,

although theirs was a predominantly poor, working class and community of color

population in the students and families, but they too have suffered from a crisis in

principal leadership, for lack of a better term, that has changed the culture of the school

dramatically, but that school, when my wife started working there, maintained some of

that vision, in terms of encouraging their students to… I feel like it takes a

transformative, radical change on an institutional level for some of these things to be

pulled off. Not to say that those projects can’t continue in a traditional bureaucratic

system, but in order to see a sustained change, certain concessions need to be made, or

certain reframings need to be made in order for it to get bigger. At my wife’s school, the

little history that I know about it, it was a small school, but committed to diversity and

constructivist learning, and in that, a lot of teachers and a lot of people, the older

generation, were products of the sixties and the social movements then, and the younger

people who have continued to participate in social movements, and they’ve brought, for

sometime, that kind of vibe to the ontology, the entire way of being of the whole school.

You know, they had a town meeting. They had a system of behavior management that

was student-centered, and open to student voice and parental voice, and fostering parental

leadership that’s different from a PTA, PA, more middle-class perspective on what it

means to be an involved parent. Different people have different opinions, but to me, that

has marks of transformative, social justice work, as a school, that fosters that. And part

of that was to do different projects around community engagement, and being assets to

the community at large, beyond the walls of the classroom. Teachers and students took it

on differently. That was probably the closest I’ve seen. The other one… my school tried

to adopt an outside organization to infuse this kind of work into my school. But, to me,

the absolute failure of the project in my school, spoke to me about the flaws in the project

itself and how they saw themselves, but it also spoke to the resistance and the apathy in

my school. Because the idea was basically service learning in the school, and in this

program. And there was problems in some of the things that they were trying to do and

lack of clarity and communication. But I also saw it, for me, as an opportunity to engage

my students in a way that I wasn’t always able to do in the other parts of the curriculum,

because of mandates and constraints, and testing, that I wanted to do. It was like, oh,

now we have an institutionalized period once a week, where we’re doing this work, and I

was like, oh, that’s good. It’s an inroad. The hard part was that there was very little buy-

in, either by the students or the faculty or the administration into really making this

meaningful, and seeing this as an essential part of how a school does it. I’ve seen that

negative example of it. So I think in my overall sense of it, I feel as though I think there’s

a little bit of opportunity resources that we need to see in terms of when we try to

institutionalize these projects, or how we go about it. If we have a supportive

administration, even mildly supportive, I would see that as an opportune time to at least

venture, maybe have a very clear larger vision, and maybe take certain pieces of it to say,

I was wondering if we could do this next year in our school. You knowing them more,

you might know that there are certain pieces that they’ll be really willing to do, and there

are other pieces that maybe there are other pieces that it might take some time to make

them comfortable with, basically releasing some of their power. That’s basically how

I’ve thought about it. The other way is kind of actually what I’ve been working on as

well, working with a group of other teachers to start your own school. We’ve slowly

been working on that, where it’s at the fundamental core, you know social justice and

social justice and social responsibility are the key constructs in which we base the entire

K-5 school. There’s always that blank slate approach, but I also don’t think that’s viable

for everyone, and I also don’t think that it makes sense to… I think it falls into the

neoliberal plans of just trying to blank slate… you know, the shock doctrine, right… just

bulldoze all the old schools and just start from scratch is what they want to do, in New

Orleans and Chicago, and Cabrini Green. I think that’s their agenda, so I think starting a

new school sometimes falls into that, because that’s all you’re doing in charter schools

and Thernstrom, and KIPPs, and choice, so that can be a little bit of a trap. But I do think

we need to spend a bit more time thinking about how we can get these things into already

standing schools, to have a transformative, profound change in the school culture and for


Your examples are really profound and the way in which your school seemingly tried to

bring in some of these values, or rather, it seems the way you describe it, maybe bring in

some of the practices maybe absent the values, and then the way in which the other

example of your wife’s school, and I think you mentioned that, since the crisis in

leadership, it has gone in another direction, but that there were some of those values. I’d

like you to flesh out those examples a little bit, and specifically talk to, what are the

values that you think, or whether they’re not values, perhaps a set of understandings, that

may have made this possible at one moment in the history of your wife’s school, and less

so in yours. And to what extent the possibility of bringing these things in depends on a

familiarity with this history, stemming from the profound idea that, in your wife’s school,

there was this culture of folks who were older, and who grew up during a time when

many more of these ideas were saturated in the culture. And so the degree to which this

awareness and institutional memory, not just of the school, but of the democracy, of the

national sentiment. To what extent does that play a role, particularly with regard to

education, the extent to which an awareness of those values in education determine the

difference between rhetoric and using these terms social justice and child-centeredness,

and some of the other ones that you mentioned, as rhetoric and using them in practice.

I think the big thing to me is to identify what are the core, the major tenets of this type of

schooling that, to me, is focused on this larger idea of social justice education. And I’ve

been going back and forth between democratic education, going back to Dewey. How are

these things part of it, multicultural education, there’s been a lot of different names, but I

think without getting too involved with trying to figure out the specific name, I think the

things for me that keep the tent up of this larger construct are 1) a profound involvement

of the community especially with young children in an elementary school. With the

project that didn’t work so well in my school, a parent brought it, and introduced it to the

school, but it wasn’t a critical mass of families and teachers that really had an investment

in this ideologically. If this parent/community/student relationship, and I think more so

the student/faculty relationship once you get into middle school and older- as adolescence

emerges, families seem to start to drop away somehow- but working to keep all of those

voices together, at least in terms talking to one another and developing a clear vision of

the school. To me, one of the important pieces of it is a deep immersion of the

community itself. Another part of it, is a commitment to democratic practices in

schooling, in terms of the culture of schooling. In terms of the way things are discussed.

And I’m talking about participatory democracy not representative forms and things like

that, where I think about people often sitting together, coming together, listening to one

another, having a lot of dialogue, consensus building, problem-posing, all of those things

that are central not only to discussing issues, but that’s part of a major vehicle for

learning in all content areas and whatever curriculum you’re engaged in. These kinds of

things are participatory, and that the way the school is run is participatory, so I think the

immersion of communities, democracy, and the other piece is this student-centered, or

this idea of learning; and while I think it is touched upon with democracy, that’s kind of

more organizational in terms of collective learning and things like that, but also what is

learning itself? To me, that’s where Vygotsky comes in, in terms of, we learn through

interaction, we learn through the materials that are presented to us. It’s also Dewey, in

the sense that it’s these occupations, that we learn from our real world, and school is life

itself, not just that we’re preparing for it and building up our human capital to participate

in the market economy. But that we’re learning about and engaging in life as it is. I

think of those three things as being the… those are the core ideas that should have

primacy. The one last aspect is less humanistic, but in an ecological perspective, all of

these things, the school itself is situated in a larger both physical, social-political world.

And the school has a responsibility to understanding and know that its implicated in the

larger dynamics. I think sometimes schools see themselves as shelters from the

community as opposed to seeing themselves as central assets to the community, both

ecologically and environmentally, and in terms of social, human resources that it can


So, of those are three major tenets: community involvement, democratic institution,

consensus building as an institutional practice, and then child centeredness which, as you

described it more sounds generally like an approach to learning that is founded upon

relational learning, and interaction building.

Yeah, exactly. For me, at least.

Which of those would you say were and were not present in your school and your wife’s

school that enabled this to take place?

I would say in my wife’s school, one of the important pieces is the community piece. I

think that the school seemed, at least historically, to work tremendously hard in having

the parents be a voice, that family was at the center of the way it operated, to me really

speaks to why it was a transformative place, or had the potential to be a transformative

place. The other part, I feel like they also to some degree, and teachers are uneven, but

they also very much focused on the child-centeredness and what I would say are

progressive forms of constructivist teaching, block building, but also process writing, and

that kind of work. I wouldn’t say critical pedagogy, but progressive. I think those two

pillars, allowed for certain opportunity, for sustained longevity. I think that an interesting

piece, in terms of the democratic operation of the school, maybe the flaw was that,

although there was a belief and an assumption that- teachers had to put in and continue to

put in a great deal of time around how many meetings they have to attend, and things like

that, and it’s very teacher-management driven- but at the same time, there seems like

there was a little bit of a flaw in the communication between the leadership and the rest

of the community in terms of sustaining that organizational memory that we were talking

about, that they understand in the long run, that they’re part of managing this school, so

that when this administrator was removed all the cards kind of fell, and I think it spoke to

how the school at that time was already having some friction, suffering from turnover of

teachers, which I think is another big piece to this, and it just became an opportune time

to destroy it. My school, similarly, the leadership, once you kind of take it out, it kind of

leaves you exposed, and the way bureaucracies are set up, because we didn’t groom our

own leader, it became this thing where we were exposed to anyone that was on the

bureaucratic hiring list and at the whim of the larger power structure that really had no

relationship with the community, no relationship with the teachers, and no relationship

with the vision, the traditions and vision of the school. So by taking out the school leader

in the current hierarchical structure, it’s easy to knock off an entire school vision, because

it’s easy, the way teachers and the teachers union is not really designed to defend the

visions of schools as much as its there to defend your wages. Everyone was left exposed,

and they’re suffering from that, although people would say that things are better because

they’re stable, but its, again, taken that transformative turn, or opportunity for

transformation away and just allowed it to just keep the ship afloat. That allowed for that

community to only have the middle-class families to be involved. And it has really done

very little to really engage the poor and families of color that do continue to come to the

school, or try to come to the school, but they’re often on the margins. I think its

leadership and community have been what kept things from actually turning around in

the school.

A lot of the different elements of your work and my work seem to be intersecting. And I

want to just ask one last question. It seems like what you’re saying is that the neoliberal

politics are really affecting leadership. When you first spoke about it, you mentioned the

revolving door of principals, and in some other respects. And then on the community

side, there’s always, as students go through the school-I guess there could be a kind of

community or family institutional memory if families are always involved and teaching

the incoming families, but because of the way schools work and because there’s a finite

period of which any family is involved in the school just by virtue of the fact that they

don’t always have children of the age that would go to the school- that it seems really to

fall on the teachers to maintain- and you got to this when you spoke of the teacher’s

union- it seems really that a community of teachers is really the center, they are

increasingly, with leadership structures being more put up against the wall by the political

pressures, it falls on the teachers to maintain this institutional memory and the values that

you speak of. Each of us is working to organize communities of teachers that are brought

together from a wide array of schools. What do you think is the role of teacher-

organizing fits into this idea of institutional memory, and is there a way of bringing the

institutional memory from organizations that work outside of schools into schools? Or is

that very element also being threatened either by school culture or by the broader political


I think that, a mobilization of a sustained critical mass of teachers can have an effect on

maintaining organizational memory, building relationships with families, and either

working with, or resisting leadership depending on whether there’s conflict within the

ideal. But I strongly feel that the communities themselves, at least from a middle-class

perspective, when parents start mobilizing and talking, they kind of trump everybody. In

more working class and marginalized communities, a coalition between teachers, and

parents and students, when they together start making some noise, they form a

considerable obstacle, and a site of resistance, or a producer of resistance that can change

things. With teachers specifically, and outside organizations, that’s kind of what I’m

wrestling with, in terms of what is its impact? My hunch is that for a lot of the individual

teachers, they serve as a nourishment, and feeding ground, an area where they can

sharpen their tools so that they can bring that back to their schools, and be, at least an

individual agent of change in their schools. But I think that the next piece is to determine

how outside organizations can serve as ways to foster the spread, and help individual

teachers to have a wider impact on their schools themselves, school by school, block by

block. I feel as though I kind of think that its better for outside organizations to remain

outside, because I think it allows us to maintain flexibility and mobility that once you get

institutionalized into a school, the way the system is structured as is, I think you’re going

to get handcuffed in a way that I think will be counter-productive. But I think you do

have these capillaries between these outside organizations and in schools through the

teachers themselves- the teachers who participate in both worlds. So they feel that they

have an analysis underpinning the way they want to teach, the way we wish to reach out

to communities, the way we wish to address their administration, they kind of serve as

this important linchpin. I think if outside organizations can start to foster collectives of

teachers within schools to work for social change, I think they’ll have done what’s

important on a very practical, local level, so this way you are able to then create networks

of clusters of schools so that its like, there’s a school in the South Bronx, and school in

East Harlem and a school in West Harlem, we have three or four teachers that are a little

transformative block within each school, and all three of those little clusters of schools

often meet within our work to then go and operate and be that change, or at least to be the

start of change. On a larger infrastructural level, teachers need to be working on the

outside-in, in terms of how these larger structures need to be critiqued and chipped-away

at. While they’re mainly focused on their local situation, they have to keep their eye on,

well, when we talk about neoliberalism, one of the cool things about neoliberalism is that

it doesn’t always stay the same. It’s like a chameleon, it changes. These outside

structures change; even just with mayoral control, over the last six years, it feels like

there’s a change every fifteen seconds, in terms of “we’re going to run it this way, but

next month, we’re going to be running it this way.” And I think that’s intentional to a

certain degree, because it means that teachers can’t always… the projects they work on

all of a sudden change. Now we’re allowed to do this, but we can’t do this, so your

strategies need to constantly change with the structures changing, kind of like the Matrix.

You come back, and the whole city looks different. That’s kind of how I see outside

organizations: they serve as a support structure, but they also help people clarify a vision.

And I think that the outside structure, in and of itself can work to attack some of the

larger structural things, while serving to support the students, or the teachers.

Perhaps that’s the role that some service learning programs can be, to hold the values of

the community-centered, democratic and relationship-based learning, and bring those

values into different environments.

Interview with Jeremy B.
PS/MS 218 Service Learning Course Student
November 19th, 2008

M: Can you describe what you would say the best thing so far has been about our class?

J: The best thing so far has been that we get to do fun charts, fun activities, and we get to
get more information about our community. The other fun part was when we did the
messenger video tape activity. We got to meet other kids who went to another school in

M: When you said something about the community, and you get to come up with
information, can you explain what you mean?

J: We get to work in groups and help each other with the charts you gave us.

M: Do you feel like what you’re learning in this class is similar or different to what
you’re learning in other classes in school?

J: I’d say it’s kind of similar and kind of different. Because we did learn about the
politics and community outside the school, and the different stuff, is that we get to do the
sexual education stuff that we did today, and we got to make the messenger video.

M: What would you say that you’ve been able to learn in our class? What are the new
ideas or understandings you have because of the work we’ve done in our class?

J: We got to meet other kids who went to another school in Harlem.I would say I learned
about what other people thought about our school, how well we work together, about
different sexual diseases, how they get passed on, about abortion, and other stuff that we

M: Can you explain about the project that we’re going to be doing, and what are some of
the things that you would like to do during the project, what are some of the things that
you would like to learn about, and to put into action?

J: Out of the three projects, I think that the high school project, and learning about what
the high schools expect from you to be accepted into high school- I think that one’s
important because we are trying to go to high school right now, since we’re in 7th grade,
and we only have one more year to take the test to get into high school, and to improve
our grades, like our principal says, like the grades we have right now, in 7th grade, they
look at that first, so she tries to sum it up, that what we do in this year, right now, tells
what we’re going to do in our whole future.

M: Have you felt like the activities that we’ve done here, and the work that we’ve done in
our class have made a difference in the kind of work that you’ve been able to do during

J: I’d say a little bit, cause I got to work better in groups, open up a little bit and give
more examples like you told us while we’re doing the group work and your activities… I
transfer that to our regular school schedule.

M: Can you give an example of a time when you’ve used that skill during the school day?

J: Like the presidential debate thing, when we talked about that. We reflected on what we
heard outside our buildings. One of the people from our circle said that they heard
cheering for Obama, that he won. People went to pep rallies before the election
happened. I transferred that to our class summaries and reflections. Reflections that I did
in class.

M: When you talked about group work and how it helped you open up, can you think of a
time when you used that ability in the course of your school day… or even in the course
of your life outside of school?

J: I can’t think of one right now, but before I was more silent, more quiet.

M: And what are you feeling now because of the work that we’ve done that’s helping you
open up?

J: Just more outgoing, outspoken, giving suggestions and ideas for projects.

M: Like you did for the project suggestions that I gave you?

J: Yeah.

M: And those were awesome suggestions, by the way. So, I think we’re going to end up
doing the project on violence in the community, but because you and some other students
wanted to focus on high school, we’re going to be relating it to what school violence can
look like, so that when you’re applying to high schools, you can already speak to a
knowledge of that issue. Can you talk about some of the hopes that you have, or some of
the things that you hope would be a little bit different, that would help you get all the
skills that you need from our class?

J: I hope that we learn more information about our activities, and have fun while we’re
doing it, and just to listen to each other.

M: Go into more detail about what you mean.

J: Well, sometimes we overspeak each other, and then we have problems trying to discuss
what we’re going to do. So I hope we can not intertwine and talk over each other like

M: What do you think we can do during our time together in our class to help us achieve
that goal?

J: Take turns while we’re talking.

M: How can we learn how to do that better? Do you have any thoughts or any ideas?

J: Not right now.

M: [I gave Jeremy this diagram]

Thought Action

Do you have any thoughts about how to turn an idea, when a thought goes through your
head, how to turn it into action?

J: I think from getting a thought to an action, I think first you have to have an idea, then
you have to have a plan for how to get it into an action. Then other people might agree
with your idea, and you can start a group or something. Then you can do a petition or
some kind of document and give that to a higher authority to make the action.

M: Would you say that any of those pieces, you’ve learned from our work together?

J: Yeah

M: Like what?

J: Like the circle group, and discussing our point of view on our ideas, like for the
election. Our different points of view, like how we saw Obama won.

Interview with Nicole J.
Director, Project Students Toward Educational Promise
Service Learning Program Coordinator, Women’s Corporation
December 3rd, 2008


I was hoping that you could talk a little about your goals for the program, both in your

capacity as a teacher, and now in your capacity as an administrator.


Well, it has two parts, as you can see in the program. One of the most important things to

do in a program like this, is to provide services that are relevant to the school, to the

community, and to the kids. That’s where the high school help comes in. The current

guidance counselor, and I don’t think she’s going to be reading your thesis, is really very

limited in her education, and in her experience, as well as what she recommends to the

students, and it puts the students at a real disadvantage. So that’s a real need at this

particular school that we saw. There are these great kids go into these awful schools, and

it’s just not right. So one of my goals as someone working in this program and as

someone running it is to provide services that are necessary within the context of the

school and within the context of the broader community. So that’s one thing that’s a big

goal, to help kids who are high and low performing get opportunities that they wouldn’t

otherwise have. To get information about opportunities and to reach for them. Another is

to get them thinking about their identities and who they are, and their relationship to the

Bronx and beyond. Because they’re just coming into an age, and it depends whether

they’re in 6th, 7th, or 8th, but they’re really coming into an age where they’re realizing that

there’s a bigger world out there. So I want to support that natural development, and that

natural brain development, and help give them some perspective on some of the stuff that

they see going on around them, and to think a little critically about it, and to feel some

agency in their education system. Whether its affecting their school, having a voice in

their after-school program, having a voice on a topic via a newspaper interview, speaking

at an event, things like that where they’re actually using their voices and feel like they’re

making a difference. I think those experiences for them, for the most part, from what I’ve

seen are pretty limited. They’re pretty disengaged and pretty disconnected from all of the

decisions that are made in their everyday lives. Those are the two main goals that I have.


You mentioned the idea of brain development, that at this particular age, this is a time

when you see, particular in relation to identity development, and developing an

awareness of their context in school, and in their community, and in the Bronx. How do

you address the different age groups differently? How do you address the needs of 6th

graders, 7th graders and 8th graders differently?


I definitely emphasize, through my teaching, and administrating, working from where

they’re at. And it’s different for each kid too. There are sixth graders who are more

mature, who are thinking on a more mature level and can grasp the concept of something

like global warming for example. And really think about that and talk about that in a way

that is pretty abstract, and involving. Whereas there are some that are just, very… I can

tell when I talk to certain students, that they’re very rigid. They’re really not ready to

think about things in a way like, how can we change this? How can we make it better?

There’s something wrong, or there potentially could be something wrong, kind of way.

And also depending on the topics that they choose, some kids are developmentally not

ready to take on certain things, and it makes them very uncomfortable. And it comes out

around, last year, issues of sex and sexuality. A lot of sixth graders were really

uncomfortable talking about it. I genuinely believe that they just weren’t

developmentally ready to talk about it in a certain way. I was just, either too personal, or

they were just in a place where they weren’t ready to think about it as this larger thing

going on outside of their own bodies and what they were going through and what they

knew about the way things are from their families or the community or whatever. So I

put them with other groups that were working on different topics that were easier for

them to understand and be able to think about.


When you say that there’s this relationship between talking about an issue and thinking

about an issue and being involved in an issue, in your experience, how have you prepared

students or pushed students to be able to get involved with issues that are relevant to the

class, such as sex and sexuality, for students who you notice may at first not be ready,

whether it’s because of their own personal experiences or developmental capacities? Do

you have strategies or methods that you use to help them become more ready to do that?


Not formally. There’s nothing that I’ve read or follow. It’s certainly an area that I’d like

to learn more about with development, and advanced development. But I’ve also taken

the approach that if kids aren’t ready, they’re just not ready. They’re going to be ready

eventually, it’s just not the right time to be doing certain things, and so I sort of back off,

and try to still involve them, but not make them feel pressured or feel like there’s

anything wrong with whatever reaction that they’re having. I guess that’s been sort of a

strategic thing. But other than that… no, just kind of waiting for them. But I’ll see it, in

seventh grade they’ll be very different, and talking about these things as though they’ve

been talking about them for years, even though last year, they were very uncomfortable

about them, violence issues, or other things.


What are factors you look for to signify that students are ready or aren’t ready? What are

some of the factors that show you that either you should either proceed a bit more slowly

or with caution, or that you should back off and come back to it at a later or different



There are so many. I mean, it’s happened in eighth grade too. Last year, we had a class.

There was a group, I mean, it was also a group dynamic, but there was a group of

students that were heavily sexually active, and heavily involved in a lot of the things that

we were trying to get them to think about, and learn about, and think more critically

about, and maybe to do things a little differently. And it didn’t work with them. It did

not work with them. No matter what we did to try to engage them, even though we were

having conversations with them, and we knew they were all sexually active, and there

was two or three of the girls who had talked about this game that they had with how

many middle school young men they could sleep with, and we had had many

conversations about that, and they were obviously developmentally sophisticated enough

to be doing it, but doing it in the way that we were trying to help them was not working.

The group was very avoidant, and it was so interesting, having the perspective that I had,

and knew so much about them and what they were up to, but they were very unwilling

and not excited about the topics, and avoidant. That’s one of the things that draws my

attention to them, and to try to investigate what could be going on, and how we could be

doing things differently. Maybe there’s not this need to be so direct about it, and provide

more opportunities for leadership. But provide other kinds of things for the students, in a

more holistic kind of way. Like, “Where do you want to be in five years?” Like looking

at them as a whole person, rather than just looking at the issues, and trying to figure out

how to involve them in things, and help them reflect a little bit about how they’re going

to get there, but also how certain behaviors could affect that. But a lot of kids will talk to

me, and they’ll say, “I don’t want to be in this class, I don’t like this topic. I don’t want

to talk about it, I don’t want to be here.” Or they’ll put their heads down consistently, or

there’s other stuff going on.


It sounds like one of the strategies you use is to take a more macro approach. So if

they’re not ready to talk about the actual issue as it relates to them, if you expand it out to

a more general understanding. Like you were saying, five years from now, you can start

to draw back some of the lines from five years into saying, they probably don’t imagine

themselves with a kid in five years…


And on welfare, and living in Women’s Corporation housing…


But those lines probably, maybe not always, come back to the issue that you want to



But it’s a different emphasis.


But developmentally also, do you feel that they have to be at a certain stage in order to

consider a future, in order to consider where they want to be? Have you struggled with

students in the past who have not been able to imagine themselves in the future?


No, the students that I’ve spoken to, for the most part, have very clear ideas about what

they want to do, even if it’s being a mom. Some of the students have said, “I want to be a

teen parent. That’s what my mom was, and that’s what I want to do. I want to finish high

school.” But there’s goals within that. But there’s a few students who haven’t been able

to say what they want to be, or what they want to do, or where they want to go. They’re

often very disconnected with what’s realistic, given what they’re doing in their lives right



A lot of what you talk about is this relationship between thinking and action, and how

pushing their thinking within the conversations that you have in class can guide their

action, or the decisions that they make with the actions that they take later. What would

you say are some of the key points that you try to hit in developing the part of your

program that’s focused on a collective project? What are some of the key moments in

going from students not having an idea for how they can be involved, to not only having

an idea, but enacting it? Obviously, you’ve had at least a few really impressive moments

of being able to put this into action. I’m really curious to know if you have any thoughts

about what are some of those key things, whether they’re key lessons, or just key ideas,

or stages of the growth of a group into a place where they can be active.


Yeah, so that picture over there, that’s the group of sex-ed girls that I had for two years, in

7th and 8th grade, when I started here. There were a lot of really key things that brought

them together behind the issue that they chose. One of the first ones was that it was

coming from them, and not being something that I told them to do. And then another was

really pushing them, and this was hard for me, as a teacher, and this was hard for them, to

think about how that issue affected them. And that’s a part that really gets left out a lot,

in my opinion, from what I’ve seen in other after-school programs, and in this kind of

work. There’s not this personal relationship to the issues that kids take on. That really

makes a difference for them. But that can’t be where it stops, because what ended up

really sealing this for them, I think, as far as them taking it on, was being asked about it,

and getting attention around it. So we went and we spoke to the principal. We went and

they stood in front of the principal, they had a whole presentation. The principal asked

them questions. I looked for any opportunity. They presented to Women’s Corporation.

They presented to our administration, because we’re a women’s organization, so I

thought, who better to talk to about this than our own organization and what they’re

doing about sex education. We don’t have a sex education component in our after-school

program, and I had to try to figure out different ways to try to articulate and to be able to

be spoken to in a respectful and non-kid-like, traditionally and in school, kind of

environment or situation. Where they know they’re being heard and respected. How it

worked in that project was that everybody else got excited about it, and they started

getting media attention, and they started writing op-ed pieces and then they really got to

use their voice, and it just went on from there. But those are the key components: getting

them to personalize it, so saying teen pregnancy is an issue in the Bronx. It’s one of the

highest in the country. I think four out the girls in that group had mothers who were teens

when they were born. We couldn’t have gone on a whole thing about teen pregnancy

from there. We could have just taken on that issue, and said we want to stop teen

pregnancy, but I couldn’t stop there, because I knew that a really important point with

them was to figure out with them how were they directly affected by that. One of the

ways was that they didn’t have sex education at any point in their educational history. So

that’s what we chose to go with.


The steps that you said were: making sure that the issue came directly from them and not

from you, that initially the themes arose from what was most interesting to them. Then to

determine how that issue affected them, and not just to make sure that the issue arose

from their interest, but also addressing how the issue was important in their lives. Then,

being able to articulate their position on the issue in relation to people in positions of

authority who were in positions to potentially allow them some involvement. Then

ultimately, through writing, and through traveling, and through talking with people, to

actually get involved to transform the reality in their school. Does that seem like it

includes all the pieces that you spoke about?


Yeah, those were the things that I saw that worked with them, and why that project was

so spectacular, and why it still continues. We got a twenty-thousand dollar grant two

weeks ago to do a peer-education program with them, because of their work. So that’s

really exciting, because we get to put sex-education in our after-school program, and they

get to teach it, so that’s really awesome.


Based on your experience, I’m interested to know about the transition between these

pieces. In addition to having the steps laid out, building the connective tissue, what are

some of the strategies for getting from one to the next… First, how would you go about

eliciting their interests, and figuring out what are those things that they care about? A lot

of teachers fear giving students any kind of direction for fear that what you were saying

wouldn’t be the case, that it wouldn’t be coming from the students, that it would be

coming from the teacher.


I think it’s idealistic to say that we don’t affect our classes, because we do. I didn’t

mention this, but a lot of it is who we are too, and our relationship and our connection

with the kids. That’s also a really key component. So we can have all the ideas we want,

and then we can go in and just not have a rapport with the kids, and it just sucks, for them

and for you, and I’ve been in situations like that, where I feel disconnected from the kids,

like we’re just not getting each other, and that’s a really hard place to do anything from.

So just establishing that connection, but also really talking to them, and getting to know

them, and taking an interest in them helps a lot with that process, and then providing

them with materials that aren’t dry, and that are fun and putting it to them in a fun way,

which I’ve seen you do as well. Keeping it really simple, what are the top three issues

you see in your community? What are the top three things you’d like to change? Or

even word it more fun, what are the top three things you’d change about your world?

And they’d read that as, your world, they’re not thinking about the entire world, they’re

thinking about their community and their school. And then giving them a list of really

cool things that people do. I remember, what I did, was to give them a list of all these

different potential projects they could do after that. As we were talking about what they

would change, we started talking about street art, and graffiti art, and just urban stuff that

they know about and see all the time. But as a thing that they could actually do, like

making tv commercials… they were really into that kind of stuff. They were like, “street

art? Graffiti art, as a way to get a message out there?” they thought was really cool.

They were just used to it being kind of a nuisance. Bringing stuff like that in.


After the connection is there, and the questions have been asked, and the students have

articulated some of the things that they care about, and after giving you some tools, and

some themes that you can play with, how would you then take the next step of helping

them to really figure out how those themes play a part in their lives? Once the themes

have been brought about by them, how do you go back and help them to apply the themes

to their lives in a context where sometimes those issues are bound to be complicated and

difficult for them to say how they’re affected.


One of the ways that I’ve used is to try to inform them of the ways in which their school

and their community works. The formal and informal rules and mission statement, and

things like that. One of the things that I brought in was the school’s mission statement.

One day they were talking about teen pregnancy and the community, and some of the

things that people are doing, and I brought in the school’s mission statement, and it talked

about the school’s mission. They had never read it, they had never even heard of it

before. We were talking about it, and that’s actually where they came up with, well, if

they’re so into giving us relevant information, which I think was part of the mission

statement, then why doesn’t anybody come talk to us about how to use birth control? So

we talked about that, and that kind of led to sex education topics. But also, bringing in

Feliz, community organizations to talk to them about one or two, not necessarily a whole

team, which would be ideal, but there’s Morrisania across the street, and I’ve worked

with them a couple times, and I’ve brought them in to talk about their mission and what it

is that they try to do, so they can kind of see what’s going on around them, and then start

to really get a perspective around what needs to be done, and are people really doing

what they think they’re doing, and really have those discussions. That’s something that

I’ve done, and that I think is really important, to give them a perspective on what’s

happening in their school, and within the five blocks that is like their world.


That also would lead into thinking that oftentimes, they may need an idea of how

problems are being solved in order to think about how they affect their own lives. Maybe

that’s not exactly what you’re saying, but in bringing people in who have already taken

the themes that have been elicited through your initial work, to bring in people who have

already identified problems surrounding those themes and who are solving them, can

maybe make the issues more accessible for students, because maybe they feel that the

problems are more acceptable for them to have if they are being spoken to by people who

are already working to solve them. Because then they are connecting with a broader

population of people who are being affected by those problems. Does that make sense?

I’m trying to understand how the relating with people in the community who are relating

with people in the community, might open them up and engage them more in this



Well, I think that it’s an informative process, mostly. Just that they can see that people do

have things like mission statements and goals, so that they can then start to think

idealistically a little bit. They can think about, well they’re trying to do this, but is that

really what I see going on? And it’s a way for them to see, and get a perspective on what

it is they’re talking about, and get some information about what’s out there and whether

it’s working, and what is needed in their own world.


That idea of idealism seems huge. The idea of a mission statement…


It’s an ideal.


Right, you’re seeing an ideal world, and you’re strategizing about how it is that we can

get there. In some ways, I think it’s related to what it is you were saying a minute ago,

because by connecting with these people, it gets them to see the way they’re affected by

these themes not as stagnant, but as part of a potentially transforming process.


It’s a process, yeah. And that they can be a part of that process. Because they have a

perspective that often isn’t heard.


Right, so often the people who come up with the ideals are not the same as the people

who have the problems.


Yeah, or maybe they were, but maybe they’re in a different place, or whatever. There’s

always different things that happen to all of us that disconnect us from things, and we

have to keep digging.


So, once you’ve helped them to identify issues and helped them to think outside the box

about those issues, once you’ve helped them imagine, and have a sense of the

possibilities beyond the reality, how do you then go from their starting to be aware that

they can imagine, to actually imagining and actually interacting with the reality in order

to produce the imagined reality? Does that make sense?


Wait, no…


OK, I’ll put it in different words. Once students have started to think about an imagined

reality and once they’ve spoken to people who have worked around these issues, in the

case of sex-ed, you worked with the principal and Women’s Corporation, but once you’ve

worked with students to speak with people who have thought about the issue and come

up with a mission statement and imagined a different reality, how do you help them at

that moment, once they’ve started imagining a different reality, to start creating it? To

being a part of the solution?


I think that the biggest thing is providing them with opportunities to be leaders. Not only

talking about it, but that’s why we’ve been trying to work for this peer-education

program. They graduated, they made this website that was really great, this Myspace

page, and they talked to kids about stuff, and it’s very idealistic, and they were learning a

lot as they were going along about their own biases and their own thoughts around it, and

how they were a part of the problem in a lot of ways. Through talking to people, we did a

lot of role-playing too, but giving them opportunities to formally learn what it is that

they’re asking for, and to be the role-models behind that, implicitly, but not putting that

pressure on them. With something like sex-ed, and this is something that I know a lot

about because I’ve done a lot of work around it, the biggest impact is on the educators

themselves, it’s not on the people that they’re educating. The impact is actually fairly

low as far as the people who are receiving the information. There are changes that

happen, and more resources that get taken advantage of, but it doesn’t really change

behavior. The behavior changes in the educators, which is why its so important to

educate kids to be educators and leaders, because they’re the ones who… it’s something

like 60 or 70%, from the studies that have been done whose decisions are actually

affected, and who actually take on these ideas as part of their identity, and who they are,

and for whom this is something that they espouse and represent. So it does become a part

of who they are. I think giving them leadership opportunities is what I’m saying. Ways

to be a leader around whatever the issue is. They are idealistic, I mean, they’re 12 or 13,

and you want to capitalize on that. And that’s a horrible way to put it, and I can’t believe

that just came out of my mouth, but it is something that you don’t want to spoil as an

educator too much, because they do want things to be so idealistic, and that’s a really

great energy, it’s a really great thing for everybody to start thinking about, wow, this

could be this way.


In a lot of ways, it seems that you’re equating being a leader with being an educator, that

putting students in a position of leadership is basically giving them opportunities to

educate others.


Well, in this example, yeah.


But there have been a couple of examples, even the idea that the people who learn the

most within any situation are the people who are educating others, it’s not as much the

people who they’re educating. So how do we put people in a role to be constantly in a

position to be educating each other? But it seems that there’s this very tight connection

that I’ve never heard before, realizing that in order for the students to be put in a position

of leadership, and in a position where they can really take on a transformative role, it

means putting them in a position to be teachers, to be educators.


Or to be informers… I never really thought about it, but I do really think that the two are

pretty closely aligned, but it could be because that’s what I do, and those are the

experiences that I have had.


It sounds like the opportunities, particularly after they’ve come to understand the themes

that they’re interested in, and how they affect their own lives, really just giving them

opportunities to be, you specifically said before, to be leaders, but it seems more and

more, to be teachers.


To have their voices be heard, and to be a part of a democracy you could say.


Even when they’re talking to principals, when they’re talking to Women’s Corporation,

when they’re talking to Klein, in a sense they’re educating them on the reality of how

these issues affect…


Their perspectives on whatever it is. They’re talking to them. They’re saying that we

think this is important. And people didn’t always agree, but usually in this case they did.

But they’re talking about what they think is important, and I think that that’s different

than being leaders and teachers. That’s a way that we’ve chosen to work with this

particular group of people. But I think it’s more becoming an advocate for something,

but I guess it could be seen as the same thing, because you’re essentially advocating,

which means talking to people, and educating them, or getting policy changed, and

talking to council meetings, or whatever it is. But I think that by doing any of those

things, they’re changing their own behavior and thoughts around it, and identity around

it. It’s a process, and it could be an unintended outcome, not necessarily the outcome that

you’d think it would have.


Then the question I have to ask: If the way of developing further understandings in

students, and developing greater capacity for action means giving them opportunities to

advocate and teach others about the reality that they experience or the reality that they

study, the reality that makes sense to them in their communities, what do they need to be

educators, what do they need to be advocates? What, at the most basic level, does

someone need in order to be in a position to feel like they can teach someone something,

to feel like they have something to teach and advocate for?


I think support is a really big part of it, and people who care about them, who are

involved. That’s a really big part. A lot of our kids do come from pretty extreme poverty

situations, and there’s a lot of stuff that is much more pressing for them than going out to

advocate for stuff. I’ve spoken to students who didn’t know if they were going to get

dinner that night, because they didn’t know if their mom could get the money together,

and they were thinking about where they were going to get food from. It’s hard when

basic needs aren’t being met, at least that they’re talking about this stuff with someone

that they care about, and that has a relationship and a care for them, that they can support

them in that way, and at least try to give them other things, whatever it is that they need,

the support in a variety of ways.


But even in those situations, those are realities as well that maybe they want to transform.


Maybe, but it’s difficult, because it’s so personal. And it’s so hard, and it has to do with

how old they are, and a lot of things. It can feel like they’re criticizing their mom, or

they’re going to lose what little foundation that they have if they’re criticizing any of it.

So it can feel really scary for kids, because they’re so dependent.


That goes back to the idea of support, in saying that the more dependent someone is on

the source of the problem, in a lot of ways, the less able they are to advocate for that

change. That if you can, in some ways, change the structure of support, and give them

support from another place so that they feel less dependent on the source of the problem,

they might be able to start to address the problem without the same sense of vulnerability

that they might feel otherwise. Is that something that you think, as a teacher, can happen?


Sure. And it’s about that person’s relationship with the particular children, and their

connection to them.


Note: Students’ responses

are written in the boxes on
the left of the page.

How can language be powerful?

• Help communicate
• Harm people
• Education

How can education be powerful?
• Benefits in the future
for instance Health
Care, Living in a nice
neighborhood, work
one job, going on
vacation, and
• You can be smart,
children can have a

How can individuals be powerful?
• Save the world
• Change the
• Teach
• Help
• Harm others
• Look like
Binta!!! (lol)
• Education

How can groups be powerful?

• Protest against wrong stuff

• Harm people
• Strike!!!

How can violence be powerful?

• By hurting people
• By controlling people
• By putting fear in people

How can silence be powerful?

• You won’t be in danger
• Avoid problems
• Learn better if silent!

How can refusal be powerful?

• Fight for your

• Free  Dom
• Fight for what
you want
• Have power
• To live/
• Help economy

How can art be powerful?

• To express your feelings

• Describe something
• Draw what you see
• Show off your work
• Freedom of speech

How can theater be powerful?
• Help your soul
• Entertaining
• Symbolize
• Changes your
• It teaches you
a lesson
• Scare

How can poetry be powerful?

• By sending
a message
• Help you
• By making
you strong
• Express
• By

Matthew Block Thesis Observation 1
Listening , recording, researching. interviewing, Team building, Constructing collective
Class #3 September 23rd, 2008 Comments/Questions
There are two parts to this observation. Between 3:35 and 3:45, students write their questions and
interview each other. Between 3:45 and 4:00 students introduce each other.


I: “Be creative, ask things that may be hard to answer.”

Students are writing quietly around the room, stationed at different desks.

V: “I want to ask, ‘how old are you’” Note the input of N

and the values/norms
B: “N (volunteer), how old are you?” that are present in her
N: “You shouldn’t ask how old you are, especially to women.”

Another student, J, comes in and asks, “What are we supposed to do?”

B says, “You have to get a paper and write down five questions for another


J asks, “Who do we write the questions for?”

V responds, “For your partner.”

J: “Do you want to be my partner?”

I took a student, H
B: “E, are you done?” outside because he
seemed upset and it
Students are beginning to talk to each other around the class… was interfering with
his participation. His
Three students are still writing. head was down and
body turned away
I enter the room again, “You have two minutes left to finish your questions.” from the group
throughout the initial
“We’re actually doing work today,” V says as she finishes writing. conversation, so I
spoke to him about
“You have one minute left,” I say. why he was upset and
asked him to try to
J finds a partner after looking for a while. settle his emotions.
He said he wanted to
3:40 play flag football
instead of
I: “Alright, I need everyone’s attention, we’re going to count off by fives.” participating.
“One, two, three, four, etc.” (Counting around the class)

I: “OK, now ones are going to be interviewing each other, twos are going to be I repeat instructions a
lot. Perhaps writing
interviewing each other, threes, and so on. If you are a one, come over to this them on the board,
particularly with
table, if you are a two, you are going to be at this table, if you are a three, you are complex instructions
like these, would
going to be here, fours are here, and fives at this table.” benefit students who
struggle with
A: “Where am I supposed to be, Mr. Block?” listening.

I: “What number are you?”

A: “I’m a four.”

I: “OK, you’re at this table.”

I: To whole class: “Alright, now this is the way this is going to work, you are

going to have to listen carefully. You have to listen carefully. For the first
This reflects my
minute, partner A… Decide, right now, with your partner, who is partner A and frustration having to
repeat instructions.
who is B.” Students talk with each other for a moment, then get quieter. My tone seems to get
more directive and
“Alright, for a minute, partner A is going to have the opportunity to ask their louder here.

questions to partner B. And remember that while you’re listening, you have to

record three pieces of information that you find out. Partner B will then have the

opportunity to take a minute, and then after a minute you will switch and you will

have to ask your partner the other person’s questions.”

F: “I don’t get it.”

B: “Wha…?”

I: “Right now, you are asking the questions you have come up with. Then your

partner will ask the questions they have come up with. Then you will switch

questions, and you will be asking them their own questions, and they will be

asking you your own questions.”

B: “Oh, ok.”
A: “And we have to write down their answers, also, or…? When we switch

papers, do we have to write down their answers also?”

I: “You have to include three pieces of important information that you find out. If

it’s in the first part, or the second part, is up to you. Alright, so you will have one

minute for partner A to interview partner B. Start now, go.”

Students begin asking each other questions…

Conversation between J and V

Since this observation
“How old are you?” was taken on video,
the audio of different
“Fourteen, psyche, I’m thirteen.” conversations was
picked up, rather than
Conversation between M and E following one
“How are you today?” throughout. The
camera was placed in
“Great!” the corner of the
room, more or less
Conversation between T and C equidistant from each
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t know,” C shrugs her shoulders.

I: “Alright, now it’s partner B’s opportunity to interview partner A. You have one

minute. Go.”

Conversation between J and V

“When is your birthday?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know your own birthday?”

I: To whole class, “You have five seconds left.”

“OK, now partner A has to ask partner B their own questions, so switch question


“Where should we write down the answers?”

“You can write it on the back or you can write it on your own paper.”

(Questions audible throughout the room, indiscernible who is asking which


“Do you have pets?”

“What do you like to do?”

“Are you an only child?”

“Are you bored?”

“Do you like the zoo?”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“What’s your favorite food?”

“Alright, now we’re going to have the opportunity for partner B to ask partner A

the questions that partner A wrote. Alright, so partner B will have a minute

starting now.”
Part of the instructions
for this activity
included that each
“Mr! What are we supposed to do now?” student would have to
answer the questions
“Partner B is asking partner A their own questions.” that were asked. In
order to make this
“We already did that.” format work, each
partner had to ask
“Then have the other person ask the questions.” their own questions
and those of their
“We did that too.” partner. This way,
“OK, then you’re done, so you can wait.” students would know
that they would have
to answer their own
questions, and would
“What is your name?” (laughing) “It’s just that I don’t know.” be conscious of asking
only things they felt
“How old are you?” comfortable
answering. (See
lesson plan)

“Alright, raise your hand if you need a couple seconds to finish asking the last

questions… V, you’re not done?”


“OK, you have ten more seconds.”

“Alright, so you are going to be responsible for introducing the person you

interviewed and telling the rest of the group what you learned about them. So

come back to the seats you were in.”

Students get up from their desks where they were interviewing, and gather in a

circle in the center of the room. C enters the room.

“C, come join us.”

C takes a seat in the back of the room.

“C, come join us.” Because C came in

late, he ended up not
3:45 really being a part of
the activity. This is a
“Alright, so, as we go around, it’s really important that you’re telling the rest of persistent problem for
many of the students.
the group what you learned about your partner. What should the other people be

doing while each person is being introduced?” M raises her hand. “Yeah,” I call

on her. “Tracking the speaker,” she says inaudibly. “I can’t hear.” “Tracking the

speaker,” she says with more emphasis. “What does that mean?” I ask. “You’re

eyes are on the speaker.”

“OK, you’re eyes are on the person who’s talking, on the speaker. What else?”
“Pay attention.” Collective
identification of
“What does that mean?” norms.

“Listening to them.”

“OK, you’re listening to them, great. What else?”

“You’re giving them your undivided attention.”

“What does that mean?”

“That you’re not going to be paying attention to something else or doing other
This is my attempt to
things.” have norms be really
clear and explicit, as
“OK, so what are some of those other things that you may not want to be doing?” well as defined by
“Like you’re not going to want to be drawing or writing.”

“OK, so even though you do have a paper and a pen or pencil, which is what you

should have, you don’t want to be drawing, or looking at your own answers,
These seem to be the
because then you’re taking your attention off of the person who is talking, right?” norms students are
used to abiding by in
“Yeah.” their classes. How
can we take the next
“Excellent.” step to identify norms
that are more
“No fidgeting.” meaningful to the
“Well, I don’t know, sometimes its alright for people to fidget, as long as it it’s not

distracting you. For example, I have a pen, and I often times go back and forth

pulling the cap in and out, and that’s kind of fidgety. But for me it helps me

concentrate. For some people, fidgeting can help them concentrate, as long its not

distracting. Now, if I were to go like this, (waving the pen around and hitting the

table with it), and be really distracting, other people are going to look at me rather My attempt to
problematize some
than the person who is talking, and that is distracting, and that wouldn’t be good. typical norms, and
help students think
What do you guys think? Do you think fidgeting is too distracting, or do you about reasons for
norms. Perhaps it
think we should allow it?” would be good to
design a lesson around
“We should allow it, but be [inaudible] about it.” this. (Gender lesson
“What did you say?” idea?)

“We should be conscious about it.”

“Yes, we should be conscious and cautious. The first time I thought you said

cautious. Conscious means aware and thinking about it, and cautious means

careful. They’re similar, but a little different. But we should be both. Great.

Alright, who would like to start by introducing the person who they interviewed?

We have two people who want to start. Agree between the two of you who will

go first.”

“You could go.”

“So, what I’m going to ask you to do, is to say the person’s name as well as the

pieces of information you learned and if there was anything that you forgot to ask

or didn’t have time to ask, you can say that too.”

“What is your name?” M asks her partner.


“E. I asked E, how does she feel about… that’s your name, right?”


“How does she feel about people abusing animals. And I asked her does she like



“Pets, pets.”

“One of the things you might be noticing is that people are having a little trouble

hearing you. So if you speak a little louder and clearer it might help people

understand you.”

“And then I asked her does she like the zoo? She said ‘kinda.’ And I told her

does she get mad at her siblings? And she said ‘yeah.’ And I asked her if she’s an

only child, and she said, ‘sadly, no.’ Yeah…”

“Is that it?”

“Uh huh.”

“Excellent interview questions. Very nice interview questions. Go ahead, H.”

“I asked her how does she feel. She says, ‘good.’ I asked her who does she vote

for for president, and she said ‘John McCain.’”

“I’m sorry, hold on one second. Can everybody hear what he’s saying?”

Several students respond, “No!”

H begins repeating what he said, still inaudibly.

“I’m sorry, I still can’t hear, maybe it’s cause I’m gettin’ old, getting’ up there in

age, but I really can’t hear you, so you have to speak a little bit louder.”

“I asked what do you think about Project STEP? She said ‘good.’ Then I asked

her what do you do at home, and she said ‘Use the computer and watch


“Great, J, go ahead.”

“I interviewed V, and I asked how old is she, and she said ‘fourteen.’”

“Thirteen,” V interjects.

“Thirteen. Where are you from? She said, ‘Puerto Rico.’ What’s your favorite

color? She said, ‘pink.’”

“That’s my favorite color, too,” E says.

“His name is J. He likes to play sports, like basketball, his birthday is December

16th, and he wants to be a doctor.”

“My partner’s name is H, [inaudible], and his favorite song is [inaudible]. I asked

him who is his favorite singer and he said he doesn’t have one, and I asked what

is his favorite site [website] and he said he doesn’t have one.”

J turns to M and asks her quietly, “What is your favorite site?”

Response inaudible.
“I heard probably about two of the questions that you asked, and it would have

helped if you had spoken more loudly, because I was really having trouble

understanding the words. Part of it was that you were just speaking very quietly,

and also you were sort of putting the words together so I had trouble

understanding which words were which.”

“My partner is Tauri. Her favorite animal is a tiger. Her favorite food is a pizza

[sic]. I mean pizza. Her favorite celebrity is C Brown, and her favorite color is


“My partner was M. I asked her, how do you feel right now? I asked her do you

feel bored right now? She said ‘yes.’ I asked her when was your first kiss? She

said ‘kindergarten.’ I asked her are you planning on getting married? She said

‘yes.’ [laughter around the circle] Do you think this class is interesting? She said

‘no.’ Do you think we should escape? She said ‘no.’”

“Your first kiss was in kindergarten?” Brittany asks M. “Yeah, on the cheek.”

“E, you spoke very loudly and clearly, and it was really easy to understand what

you were saying. Nice work.”

“My partner was Brittany, and I asked her if she likes to take showers and she said

‘yes,’ I asked her if she wishes she was a table and she said ‘no,’ and I asked her if

she likes to eat paper, and she said ‘no.’”

“My partner was Audrey, her day was good, her birthday August 12th and her

favorite type of music is punk, I mean pop.”

“While you were being interviewed… By the way, you all did an excellent job

listening to each other really carefully.”

“Tauri didn’t go yet.”

“Tauri, did you not go, I’m sorry.”

“My partner was T, I asked her her favorite food, she said ‘pizza,’ I asked her how
she’s feeling right now, she said ‘bored,’ and I asked her what she wants to be

when she grows up and she said she don’t know. I asked her why she’s in class,

and she said because she has to come.”

“Did anyone have any questions that they realized after their interview that they

didn’t have a chance to ask?”


“When was your first kiss?”

“Third grade.”

“On the lips?”

“Yeah,” [giggling]

“Raise your hand if you got asked a question that made you feel a little

uncomfortable or a little scared about answering.”

“Just one person? What question made you uncomfortable?”

“Number 2.”

“What was number 2?”

“When was your first kiss?”

Giggling around the class, side conversations emerging.

“I’m sorry, we’re going to have to wait, because we’re not all in the same

conversation now.”

“Go ahead.”

“People thought I was talking about on the lips and I wasn’t,” M said, referring to

her comment about her first kiss in kindergarten.

“OK, so how could you have been more clear in your answer?”

“I should have said, ‘Yes, on the cheek.’”

“Did anyone write their questions expecting just one word answers?”
“Yes,” several students respond.

“Did anyone write their questions expecting longer than one word responses?”


“Yes,” M responds.

“Yeah, why… I seem to be calling on M a lot.”

“Yeah, why?” asks V.

“Because M is the one who is raising her hand.”

E jumps in, “Maybe its because M is the one who is feeling great today.” [At the

beginning of class, we went in a circle saying how our day had been, and M was

the only one who was excited about her day. Incidentally, she is also the only one

who does not go to the same school with the other students.]

“M, what was the question you asked that you were expecting more than a one

word answer to?”

“Do you like pets?”

“Isn’t that a yes or no question?”

“Yeah, but then I put ‘why or why not?’”

“OK, so asking ‘why or why not’ can be a good way of having people explain

their response.”

“Out of all these questions, what was the question you heard from your

classmates that you thought was the most interesting?”

Brittany raises her hand, “Do you wish you was a table?”

“Why is that the most interesting?”

“Because, who would ask that? Who would want to be a table?”

“You’re retarded.”

“Tauri, you had your hand raised.”

“Yeah, do you eat paper? Do you like to poop?”

“She had the weirdest questions.”

“Was it more fun to answer the interesting questions than it was to ask the

questions that were like, ‘how old are you?’”

“Well, I was bored,” said Audrey, “So I was trying to think of what questions

would be funny.”

“Was there any question that anyone heard from other people, that they’re

interested in knowing about everyone else?”

“Yeah, when was your first kiss?”

“OK, so let’s go around and all have a chance to answer.”

“Can I use the bathroom?”

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want.”


“Let’s ask the teachers!”


“I want to know from N (volunteer)!”

“Let’s go around and ask people.”

At this point, two students begin facilitating the conversation. They call on

people one by one around the circle as each person responds. Most students are

laughing or giggling nervously. But nobody cuts each other off when it’s their

turn to speak.

Acting In and On the World

Theatre of the Oppressed connects students’ and teachers’ everyday lives to the Civil
Rights Movement

Augusto Boal, a Brazilian and friend of Paulo Freire, developed this theater method in
the 1960s as a mechanism for learning how to take action.

“She told us that when the girls’ basketball team practiced at the same time as the boys,
they were relegated to the inferior court. At one point, the girls practiced without benefit
of the lights. She was told the school couldn’t afford to pay for the electricity for both
teams. Felicia cited several other inequities in the treatment of the girls’ teams…

“Once the skit was set up and roles assigned, the Theatre of the Oppressed ‘players’
presented it for the audience. Two actors played the roles of Felicia and a teammate.
They entered the gym and discovered there’s no electricity. ‘Oh no, not this again,’ they
said. ‘How are we supposed to practice with no lights?’ Outraged, they went to the
principal’s office. The actor playing the principal listened to their complaint. ‘I’m sorry,
ladies, but we just don’t have the budget to keep the electricity on for two team practices
per night.’ Dejected, the ball players go back to the gym. End of scene…

“The actors immediately repeated the skit. The difference now was anyone from the
audience could stop the action by saying ‘freeze’ when they had an idea about how the
‘target’ or a ‘potential ally’ might speak up. When the actors left for the principal’s office
in the second go-around, Lola yelled, ‘Freeze!’… Lola, playing Felicia, turned to her
teammate (the potential ally) and said, ‘Come on, let’s go get the whole team and march
to the principal’s office and tell him this is unfair.’ The audience cheered for Lola’s
Gender Role Responses

Boys’ Answers Girls’ Answers

Questions Woman Man Woman Man
1. What is a… -Weaker sex -King of Earth -Female -Strong*
-Inferior to men -Greater sex -Can have babies -Irresponsible (50/50)
-Like to clean* -Masculine*
-Sassy -Short hair*
-Smart -Careless*
-A leader
2. What should a -Thick -“Brolic” -Curves* -Sexy*
… look like? -Pretty face -6’4’’ -Straight hair -6 pack/abs*
-Good hair -Fresh -Long nails -Handsome*
-Guitar body -Big lips -Big feet*
-Pretty eyes -Girly
-Can’t look good from far -Long eyelashes
but far from good -Small feet*
-Long hair*
3. What should a -Chores (Clean, cook, etc.) -Work -Dance -Care for you*
… do? -Have babies -Make the money -Clean* -Charming*
-Pleasure men -Eat -Cook* -Strong*
-Sleep -Give birth -Buy roses/romantic*
-Watch ESPN -Go to school/college
-Be independent
-Care for body
4. What games and -Barbie -Guns -Barbies -Power rangers*
toys should a … -Double Dutch -Firecrackers -Tomagatchi -Open to play with any
play with? -Hopscotch -Sports equipment -Playstation toys
-Any games- no such thing -Spiderman*
as a boy or girl choice
5. What jobs -Nurse -Emperor of the World -Lawyer -Police man
should a … do? -Masseuse -President -Secretary -Judge
-Bartender -Police -Doctor -Soldier
-Model -Fireman -Nurse -Firefighter
-Doctor -Teacher/professor -Father figure
-Surgeon -Conductor
-Any jobs like a man could
-Mother figure/hardest job
6. What role -Take care of family -Bring the Bacon -Mother -Fix light bulb*
should a … have in -Housewife -Give kids discipline -Cook*- men can cook too -Rub feet
a family? -Leader- head of household -Care for you
-Compassionate -Be the provider*
-See a need/fulfill it
7. What part of a -Kitchen -Couch -Kitchen* -Bathroom
home should -Bathroom -Best chair at dinner table -Bedroom -Living room
belong to a …? -Bedroom (maybe?) -Living room -Garage
-Bedroom (Most likely) -Basement

8. How should a … -Call your man -Fight -Talking it out -Fight*

resolve a fight or a -Call the police -Sit down and watch if girl -Ignore -Talk it out
conflict? -Call older brother on girl -Fight/social class* -Break it up
-Use a brick to smack ‘em
on the head
9. Who and what -To take care of the family -Make money for woman -Children* -Wife/girlfriend
should a … be -Same thing as #3 -To support family -The man (50/50) -Children*
responsible for -Pets -Themselves
taking care of? -Bedrooms -Parents

Your name: Date of observation: October 14th, 2008

Child’s pseudonym: Child’s age/grade: 7th grade
Observation assignment # (where relevant) : 2 Observation Title: Message in a Bottle, Message 1
Type: Running record _x__ Jotting ___ Anecedote ___

Context (activity, location in classroom, peers and/or adults in proximity to child, etc.)
In this observation, students answered questions about our class, the school, and the community. They also came up with
questions for another class on chart paper that they used to create scripts so they could film a message to the other class.
This was the first of several video messages exchanged between the classes. The last section of observation 2 contains the
third Message in a Bottle, sent by this class in response to questions that the other class asked.

Time observation begins________ Comments/Questions

re. specific aspects of
Notes what you observed
My name is Anthony Sosa, the one and only.

My name is Jahvoni.

My name is Jeremy.

My name is Tauri.

My name is Joshua.

My name is Marianne.

My name is Abraham.

My name is Raphy.

My name is Nancy.

Jeremy: Yeah, our class is excited to meet you guys in Harlem. We want to know

about your community, about yourself, about your class with Mr. Block. Say hi

Mr. Block.

Tauri: The people in my class wrote down what they think about the class. Some

people said the class was fun, outgoing, cool. And some people said it was

boring, but the people in the class make it funner. And we have many laughs in

our classes.

Jeremy: Many?

Tauri: I don’t know, that’s what they wrote. And we come together as a family.
Jeremy: Familia.

Josh: I have info about our school. Our school is big, it has four floors, long

hallways. Our school is fun, it has good teachers, good students, and that’s it.

And good after-school programs. And our school is nine years old.

Marianne: We want to know more about your class and your school, and more

about the activities that your school has to offer. Does your class get along well?

Anthony: Our community, we live around Yankee Stadium, even though they

suck, in my opinion. I’m sorry, but damn! Lemme talk! Our community has a

lot of stores. We have pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds. In our

community, there’s a lot of stuff happening. It’s a good place to live. There’s

always people buying stuff. It’s mad loud. Mad cars. Beep beep!

Time observation ends________


Your name: Date of observation: October 22nd, 2008
Child’s pseudonym: Child’s age/grade: 7th grade
Observation assignment # (where relevant) : 3 Observation Title: Service Learning Class
Type: Running record _x__ Jotting ___ Anecedote ___
Context (activity, location in classroom, peers and/or adults in proximity to child, etc.)
Students are answering questions about different kinds of violence on chart paper. The chart is attached.

Time observation begins__3:30______ Comments/Questions re.

specific aspects of what
Notes you observed

Josh: Oh, I want to write. That’s not fair?

Raphy: You want to write?

Josh: Why can’t I write?

Chris: Cause you can’t trust you.

Raphy: This is what I’m gonna write. I’m gonna be like, look. This is one of the

questions. I’m gonna write… Joshua, listen up.

Josh: I was gonna write.

Raphy: Hold up, look, what kind of violence can happen at home?

Chris: Your mother hittin you with a bat… naw, naw, with a broom!

Me: Hold on, time out. The one thing that needs to true, is that you guys need to

be serious. You should be honest, but you need to be serious.

Chris: Yeah, when your mom gets pissed and she hits you with a broom.

Raphy: So you call that domestic violence, right?

Chris: Right

Raphy: So write down domestic violence.

Chris: That hurts!

Jennifer: How do you spell that?

Me: Spelling isn’t the most important thing, so don’t worry about the spelling right
now. [Turns to Chris] What did I say about being serious?

Raphy: What other kinds of violence happen at home?

Chris: Your mom’s so pissed she shoots you.

Me: Chris, do I need to take you outside?

Josh: The camera’s on right now?

Me: Be serious about what you’re doing.

Raphy: Joshua, what kinds of violence happen at home?

Josh: You get hit.

Chris: Sexual harassment.

Raphy: [To Jennifer, who is writing] Put sexual harassment

Josh: Not really, I don’t get harassed.

Chris: I do, oh wait, not sexual harassment though.

Raphy: What about you Jennifer, you have anything to add? Nothing…? No


Raphy: OK, what kind of violence can happen at school?

Josh: Fights.

Chris: Sexual harassment, fights, death

Anthony: Peer pressure.

Me: Jennifer, try to write smaller, so there’s room for as many responses as


Raphy: What other kinds of violence can happen at school?

Chris: Sexual harassment.

Anthony: Harassment.

Josh: It’s the same thing.

Anthony: No, it’s not, sexual harassment is…

Chris: Sexually transmitted diseases.

Josh: You could just get hit for nothing.

Jennifer: I read that this teacher…

Me: We can’t talk over each other. In order for this conversation to work, only one

person can speak at a time, if you need to raise your hand, we can do that, but I

think we can do it in a group of this size without needing to raise our hands.

[Turns to Jennifer] You wanted to say something.

Jennifer: I read that this teacher, she took a chair or a table and she just threw it at a


Me: So what would you call that?

Anthony: Violence.

Me: OK, so let’s put it on the chart, how can we have enough space to fit it all.

Here, lets look at how we can space this out so everything fits.

Chris: What do you call it when you have anger and you take it out on other people

by yelling?

Me: Good, what do you call that?

Jennifer: That’s not violence… Arguments…

Anthony: Verbal.

Josh: Verbal abuse.

Anthony: Verbal harassment.

Chris: Naw, that’d be messed up if…

Me: Chris, very good thinking. I’m interested to know later on, when we talk

about it, whether or not we consider that violence.

Raphy: What kind of violence can happen in the streets?

Josh: You could get shot, you could get jumped.

Chris: You could get run over.

Josh: You could get attacked by Asians, or people that box.

Chris: People that box are called… [inaudible]

Josh: Indians, Indians.

Me: Chris, and Joshua…

Josh starts to speak.

Me: You’re cutting me off now. [Josh stops talking.] Now, we’ve taken ten

minutes to answer the questions so far. The reason we’re only on number two, is

that we continue to speak over each other, so the person who’s recording our

answers, Jennifer, can’t keep up with everything that we’re saying, and we’re not

being totally serious about what is being expected of us in this activity. So in order

for us to make that work, what are we going to have to do?

Chris: Send people out.

Me: But if we send people out, then we can’t achieve our goal of completing the

activity together, because if people are outside, then they can’t do the activity.

At this point, three girls come into class late. (3:38) I walk over to their group to

get them started on the activity, while Raphy continues with the group he’s

working with, and Nancy continues with her group.

Raphy: So, what other kinds of violence happen in the street.

Me [working with the group of girls who just walked in]: So last week, when we

decided which of the projects we were interested in doing, we decided, as a class,

that the project on violence was our first choice. So, to get started, we’re going to

brainstorm responses to some questions about violence. The first question is

“What kinds of violence occurs in the home?”

Jahvoni: Hitting.

Brittny: Hitting, arguing.

Jahvoni: Cursing.

Me: What else? Any other ideas?

Brittny: Throwing stuff.

Jahvoni: Breaking stuff.

Me: OK, do we have anything else, or do we want to move on?

Jahvoni: Throwing.

Marianne: Fighting, arguing, pushing each other.

Raphy [on the other side of the room]: Can violence ever be acceptable? If so,

when? If not, why not?

Chris: Yes, when your mom gets mad.

Raphy: So it’s acceptable for your mom to beat you when you do something


Josh: No!

Chris: Yeah, when she’s mad.

Raphy: So, you’re saying that violence can be acceptable when needed, like when

you deserve it?

Anthony: But that’s domestic violence.

Chris: But if you piss your mom off, then its not domestic violence.

Raphy: So then it’s ok?

Chris: Sometimes.

Raphy: So sometimes its ok? So, Jennifer, I guess we decided that sometimes its


Josh: Like, self-defense.

Raphy: What does that mean?

Josh: Like, if someone hits you, it’s cool to hit them back.

[At the same time as this conversation was going on in Raphy’s group, my group

was having a different conversation about the same topic.]

Me: So what else do we have?

Jahvoni: I said throwing stuff, throwing objects.

Me: What else? OK, let’s move on to the third one. You guys are really thinking

clearly and thoughtfully. From now on, let’s be as specific as we can. Who’s

involved and what they’re actually doing. I think we have the what they’re doing,

so let’s also think about who’s involved. What kinds of violence can happen in the


Marianne: Gangs.

Jahvoni and Brittny: Yeah, gangs.

Brittny: Drug deals. Like in my building.

Me: Would you count that as street violence, or as home violence?

Brittny: That’s building violence, it’s not in my house. It’s either in the hallway, or

in the elevator.

Me: So, for number one, why don’t we add building violence?

Marianne: Yeah.

Brittny: But it don’t bother me.

Me: We’re talking about the kinds of violence that bother us, and the kinds that


[At this point, Raphy has to raise his voice at Josh to let other people speak, and

not to cut them off.]

Marianne: Hey, be quiet… I’m trying to concentrate.

Me: What other kinds of violence happen in the street?

Jahvoni: I would say alcohol, because when people get drunk, they start violence.

Brittny: Like my brother… [inaudible]

Me: Is that violence?

Brittny: It’s trespassing.

Me: OK, let’s add that.

Marianne: Homeless people go into your building.

Me: So, homelessness?

Jahvoni: She said raping?

Me: OK, what else, what other kinds of violence in the street?

Marianne: Shooting.

Brittny: I was gonna say that.

Me: Marianne, anything else for number three?

Marianne: People getting jumped or robbed.

Me: OK, let’s add that. Anything else Brittny or Jahvoni for number three?

Jahvoni: Like, if someone from your school comes over here to jump you to get

you back.

Me: For what reason?

Marianne: Because you have a big mouth.

Me: OK, so you might want to say retaliation.

Brittny: Re what?

Jahvoni: Retaliation.

Brittny: I don’t know what that is.

Me: When you retaliate, it means that you’re getting someone back for something

that they did to you. That’s what it means when you retaliate.

Brittny: Oh, so when she got you back?

Me: Exactly, she’s retaliating. Anything else for number three? We’re behind the

other group because we came in late.

Jahvoni: But we’re doing better than them.

Me: We’re doing a very nice job, and we have a lot more to do. We’re going to

come back to number four if we have time. Number five, is violence always

physical? What other types of violence are there?

Jahvoni: There’s verbal violence.

[Ammhar comes in (3:45)]

Me: Ammhar, come join our group. Have a seat right here. OK, what other kinds

of violence are there?

Marianne: Chemical violence.

Me: What does that mean?

Marianne: When people put Clorox in your food.

Brittny: Who would do that? Who puts Clorox in your food?

Brittny and Jahvoni start laughing. The other groups turn to look at what’s going

on. Our group pauses for a moment to gather ourselves.

Me: We’re on number five. The question is, what types of violence are there, other

than physical violence? We have verbal violence and chemical violence.

Cristina: There’s sexual harassment.

Me: OK, and that can be physical or what?

Ammhar: Mental.

Me: That’s good, let’s put up mental violence. What’s another word for mental

violence? What’s another word for feelings?

Ammhar: Psycho

Marianne: Psychological

Me: OK, psychological violence. And what’s another word for feelings?

Marianne: Emotions

Me: Good, emotional violence. OK, let’s move on to the next one. Can violence

ever be acceptable?

Ammhar: No.

Brittny: No. Yes. I don’t know.

Me: Well, what do you think?

Marianne: Yes.

Jahvoni: Yes.

Me: When do you think violence is acceptable?

Brittny: When I hit my brother.

Me: Why is that acceptable?

Brittny: Because he’s my brother.

Me: So you’re saying family violence is acceptable?

Jahvoni: No.

Brittny: One of my cousins hit me.

Me: So what do we think? Is violence between siblings acceptable or not


Ammhar: Not acceptable.

Me: OK, so are there kinds of violence that are acceptable?

Jahvoni: Arguments.

Me: So you think that arguments are an acceptable form of violence?

Marianne: Yeah

Jahvoni: Yes

Me: Do you think arguing is acceptable always or sometimes?

Marianne: Sometimes.

Me: In what situations?

Marianne: When you disagree and you’re debating.

Me: But is it violence then?

Marianne, Jahvoni, Ammhar, and Brittny look confused.

Me: OK, let’s put arguing on the chart with a question mark and we can discuss it


Marianne: Well, if it’s to make somebody do something positive, then its ok.
Me: So if violence is used to make people do things that are positive then it’s ok?

Marianne: Yeah.

Me: Do you all agree?

Ammhar, Jahvoni, Brittny: Yeah

Me: OK, so let’s put that up there.

[The majority of the class was spent completing a chart with fourteen questions

that is attached on the page following this observation. After we completed the

chart, the groups gathered together to have a debriefing conversation.]

Me: Does everybody remember the other class that we have been sending

messages to for our Message in a Bottle activity?

Class responds that they remember.

Me: So last time we listened to their message to us, they asked us about things that

were going on in our community. Roxanne, one of the students from the other

class, said that the neighborhood where she goes to school is really bad, and

dangerous. The students from that class asked us about our neighborhood, and

what it is like. That’s one of the reasons that we were thinking and talking today

about the kinds of violence that there are in our neighborhood. As we record our

message to them, let’s try to answer their questions, and ask them any more

questions that we may have for them. Who would like to start?

Anthony: [To class] Calláse! [To camera] We was talkin’ about how violence

affects us. And we was talkin’ about answering questions, about how violence is

affecting other people.

Ammhar: One of the things that happened… you said in my neighborhood or on

my block?

Me: Either way.

Ammhar: On my block, somebody got shot, and I knew him.

Marianne: There’s not only violence within the people in the community. There’s

also violence going on with the police. Some police people… men, like to take

advantage of their power.

Me: Do you know a particular example of that happening?

Marianne: Yes, but I don’t want to describe it.

Anthony: My cousin’s boyfriend was killed in a gunfight, rest in peace.

Josh: In the newspaper, police once killed two people on my block cause they

didn’t like them… It’s true. And around 170, where I live, another person got shot

yesterday, and some of my friends, they saw people with crow bars, and they were

trying to run away from them. And then other people had a bag of rocks, in a

plastic bag.

Students around the class start laughing.

Me: Can I ask, for anyone who’s participating in the conversation that we’re

having, why do we think we’re so tempted to laugh in this context, when we’re

having this conversation?

Chris: Because he didn’t say what he meant.

Josh: Because laughing is contagious.

Marianne: There’s also a lot of violence in our communities, not also because of


Me: Can we make sure we’re listening to the person who’s speaking please?

Marianne: There’s not only individuals that are starting violence, there’s also

groups of people. There’s like gangs, like bloods, Cripps, Latin Kings.

Ammhar: There’s bloods, Cripps, latin kings, Chinese gangs.

Marianne: I want to ask a question. There’s not only gangs, there’s also racial

groups, like Nazis and stuff like that. And I want to also ask, how is your
community good? And why do guys love it?

Josh: I wanted to say something. It’s not only gangs. It could also be kids in

school, it could be parents, it could be teachers. Kids, they could just start

fighting, and there’s also racism, so anyone could just start fighting cause they

don’t like their race. It’s not only gangs and police. We have people too. And

have a nice Thanksgiving!

Time observation ends___4:30_____


What is Violence?
Service Learning Course, PS/MS 218

October 22nd, 2008

Questions 1-7 Responses Questions 8-14 Responses

1. What kind of • Hitting/punching 8. Who usually • Bad people

violence occurs in the • Cursing commits violence? • Gang bangers/ Gangs
home? • Arguing • Dictators
• Throwing objects/breaking things • Black people
• Building violence • Police
• Domestic violence • Mafia
• Nazis
• Some teenagers
• Teachers
• Males
• Lower class people
• Uneducated people
• Homeless people
2. What kind of • Bullying 9. What happens • Juvenile hall
violence occurs in • Fighting (short-term and long- • Community service
school? • Cursing term) to people who • Death penalty
commit violence?
• Pushing • Life imprisonment
• Throwing objects
• Sexual harassment
• Teachers against students
3. What kind of • Gangs 10. Who is usually the • Innocent people
violence occurs in the • Verbal abuse victim of violence? • Homeless people
street? • You can get hit by stuff • Poor people
• Drugs/alcohol • Females
• Guns/Shooting • Gangbangers
• Raping • Upper class people
• Homeless people getting jumped • Teachers
• Retaliation • Students
• Robbing • Smaller kids
4. What kind of • Physical violence 11. What happens • Hospital
violence occurs • War (short-term and long- • Bell View
between groups of term) to people who • Lifetime in therapy
people? are the victims of
• Bad memories
• Unable to control violent movements
5. Is violence always • Verbal violence 12. Who prevents • Parents
physical? What other • Sexual harassment violence before it • Teachers
types of violence are • Psychological abuse starts? • Police
• Emotional violence • Principals
• Violence is not always physical • Citizens
• Security guards
• Friends
6. Is violence ever • Arguing 13. Who stops violence • Same as #12
acceptable? If so, • Acceptable when it is to make someone after it has begun? • Social workers
when? If not, why do something positive
not? • Violence is sometimes acceptable, for
example, if you do something wrong,
it’s ok for your parents to punish you,
but not to the extreme.
7. What is the • Random violence is when it happens 14. How is violence • One person doesn’t like another person
difference between out of nowhere and you aren’t aware related to age, gender, because of their color.
random violence and • Torture is non-random violence race, class, nationality, • Some people think that girls are
non-random violence? • The difference between random and ethnicity? weaker so they take advantage.
violence and non-random violence is • Some people think that when they get
that random is not thought-out and non- older they have to get respect.
random is thought-out. • Rich people think they’re superior.

During our classes for the next couple months, there are three different project
options that we have. Read the descriptions carefully and list them in order from
1-3, 1 being your favorite.

Project Ideas Your Response

(Rating and Suggestions)
1) Relationships: Physical and Emotional 27
In this project, we will research different kinds of relationships
including friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships, and
professional relationships. We will determine the different kinds of
behaviors that are required by different types of relationships. Each
student will construct a project to learn about (and develop) the kind of
relationship that they choose. As a class, we will create a service
project to present our conclusions to children and adults.

Possible Interviews: friends, family, health-care providers, doctors,

nurses, social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, university
professors, non-profit organization administrators.
2) High School: What Do They Look For? 23
In this project, we will research different high schools and what they
look for in the students they accept. We will determine what they want
to see from students’ academic work, their extra-curricular work, their
hobbies, their skills, and their relationships. Each student will
construct an individual project that will help them learn about a topic
that high schools care about. As a class, we will create a service
project to inform children and adults about what students need to be
prepared to go to great high schools.

Possible Interviews: high school admissions directors, principals,

guidance counselors, parents of high school students, high school
students, college students, non-profit organization administrators.
c) Violence: Our School and Our Community 22
In this project, we will research different ways that people use violence
against each other, and what the effects of this violence are. We will
focus especially on violence in our homes, schools, and communities,
though we will also learn about violence that takes place between
nations and organizations. Each student will create a project to
research one type of violence. As a class, we will develop and carry
out a violence prevention strategy based on individual students’

Possible Interviews: police officers, detectives, social workers, prison

officials, lawyers, judges, policy-makers, activists, guidance
counselors, university professors, non-profit organization
By Wyclef Jean

Election times coming.
Who you going to vote for?

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday,
Assassinated on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...(If you were president)
If I was president...(If you were president)
If I was president...

Verse 1:
Instead of spending billions on the war,
I can use that money, so I could feed the poor.
Cause, I know some so poor, when it rains that’s when they shower.
Screaming "Fight the Power".
That's when the war should devour.

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...

Verse 2:
I know some soldiers that sleep but they can't dream,
Wake up with screams, sounds of M16s.
So take this Medal of Honor for your bravery.
I wish you the best kid, you and your family.

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...
Verse 3:
But the radio won’t play this
They call it rebel music,
How can you refuse it? Children of Moses?
Tell the children the truth, the truth,
It’s not all that bling that’s diamond
Tell them the truth, the truth,
Most of y'all wear cubic zirconium.
Tell them the truth the truth yeah,
Your soul is worth more than diamonds.

If I was president all blacks would have reparation, no segregation

Feed the nation so there’s no famine
Muslims, Jews, Christians would all hold hands,
Every week on the beach, party by the sand Word up.
Take trips on Air Force One don't need need to bring the homeless
With no sneaks, cause they’re air force ones.
Better schools in the hood
better teachers for the classes,
Making money, paying no taxes.
Find the best scientists tell’em “come up with the answer,
I want the cure for aids and cancer”
But I got to watch my back sniper's on the hill
With their steel, waiting to JFKill.

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday, Assasinated on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...

I feel the rain coming let me play my guitar for them right now.
By Wyclef Jean

___________ times coming.
Who you going to ____________ for?

If I was _________,
I'd get elected on Friday,
____________ on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to __________ on Monday.
If I was president...(If you were president)
If I was president...(If you were president)
If I was president...

Verse 1:
Instead of spending _________ on the ________,
I can use that money, so I could __________ the __________.
Cause, I know some so poor, when it ________ that’s when they ________.
________ "Fight the _________".
That's when the vulture ____________.

If I was president,
I'd get _________ on Friday, assassinated on Saturday,
___________ on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...

Verse 2:
I know some soldiers that __________ but they can't _________,
Wake up with _________, sounds of M16s.
So take this Medal of __________ for your _________.
I wish you the best _________, you and your __________.

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday,
Buried on ___________,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...
Verse 3:
But the _________ won’t play this
They call it _________ music,
How can you __________ it? Children of __________?
Tell the children the truth, the truth,
It’s not all that _________ that’s diamond
Tell them the ___________, the truth,
Most of y'all wear cubic zirconium.
Tell them the truth the truth yeah,
Your ________ is worth more than __________.

If I was president all blacks would have reparation, no ______________

Feed the _________ so there’s no _____________
___________, Jews, Christians would all hold hands,
Every week on the beach, party by the ___________ Word up.
Take _______ on Air Force One don't need need to bring the ___________
With no sneaks, cause they’re air force ones.
Better ___________ in the hood
better teachers for the ___________,
Making money, paying no ____________.
Find the best scientists tell’em “come up with the ___________,
I want the cure for __________ and cancer”
But I got to watch my back ___________ on the hill
With their steel, ___________ to JFKill.

If I was president,
I'd get elected on Friday, Assasinated on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
Then go back to work on Monday.
If I was president...
If I was president...
If I was president...

I feel the __________ coming let me play my guitar for them right now.
Linda’s Story

My name is Linda and I started having a bad life at 18. I met what I thought was a wonderful man. He was
one of my bosses from work. He was so kind to me at fist. We would spend lovely times together just
having fun. I seemed important to him; at least I thought I was.

After we were dating for about 2.5 months I found out I was pregnant and I wanted no more children. I
already had a son and I was too young for him but another would have been havoc. So I told Joe that I
wanted to terminate the pregnancy and that is when it all started.

He kept me home and fired me from my job. For the 1st time he hit me right across the face because I said
I was leaving him. He dragged me into the dept. store and said we are going shopping so stop crying like a
baby. He acted like it was nothing and I knew it was wrong but I did as I was told. I was 18 and he was 31.
I thought an older man would be better for me but I was wrong!

The hitting became beatings almost every day. Even though I was pregnant, he did not care. He said, "If
you were a good girl I wouldn't have to discipline you so much." I hated hearing that. Be a good girl- that
was screwed up ya' know?

I had my daughter and I thought it would help us but it didn't. It just meant that I was stuck with him. The
black eyes and busted lips and bruised body was all I knew and he was taking my heart too. I was no
longer living near my parents and I was forbidden to have friends or should I say a life?

Two years later I became pregnant and I was not at all happy with that. But of course I had to stay
pregnant. It cooled him down a little and he always said he was sorry. I hated my life and I wanted it to
end but I had children whom I loved and I couldn't leave them. That is what keeps me alive. I tried to get
help from my dad but he said THAT I MADE MY BED NOW - lay in it!! That hurt so much because I
thought daddies were there to help when you needed them most.

My father was angry with me because I had children and he said it was my fault I put myself in that type
of position. My mom couldn't even help me she could barely take care of herself. So as my pregnancy
progressed he was a little nicer to me- we had twins now. That was the worse news to me. I kept thinking
how am I going to leave with 4 kids.

I paid for a tubal ligation so I couldn't have any more children with him. I started saving a dollar here and
a dollar there so I could escape my hell with my children. I remember one day that I told him I hated him
with every bone in my body. He hit me so hard I went flying at least 10 feet across the bed and onto the
floor. Blood dripping from my mouth, I just smiled and said, "Are you done?" I was so tired of him hitting
me and controlling me as a person that I had had enough!

He started hitting me some more and I didn't back down. He finally walked away. The days went by and I
would get hit because I didn't vacuum first then dust. The house was not clean enough or there was a fork
in the sink I would get slapped again. He made excuses to hit me. So I bided my time till I could leave.

A few years later I was going to be gone within a few months then I found out I was pregnant again. I was
floored because I paid to be fixed. Well I was that 1% that could get pregnant. So I stayed until my last
child was 1 and a 1/2 and I packed my things and left.

I left the children behind because I couldn't care for 5 children. I took the oldest child with me because he
was mine and not his. I became a stripper to care for my son and we did fine and I thought I would finally
be free of violence. I loved my new life of no more long sleeved shirts or pants to cover the bruises.

Then I met James and he swore he would never hit me and he didn't for 1 1/2 years. Then one day I was
out riding my bike and I pulled into the front yard and he was yelling and all of a sudden I fell down. He
had hit me in the face so hard I had lost my balance. I still do not know why he hit me that day he never
told me.

I stayed with him for a few more months hoping it was a mistake and it would never happen again. But I
was wrong again. I let him move in with me in hopes of a good relationship. It did not last long.

One night I went out with my friends like I always did on Fridays and when I got home he yelled and
screamed at me for being out while he was working. I basically told him he needed to leave because it was
not working out then he hit me across the face a couple of times. I got up and ran for the phone to call for
help. He pulled it out of the wall. He kept saying why are you making me do this to you? He grabbed my
hair and was dragging me into the bedroom and I knew what that meant from experience I began to
scream for help.

My son heard me and I hollered to him to get the neighbors and he did. He saved my life. James was
arrested and given 1.5 years and no contact. I moved after that. We were over and I was over with men at
least I thought I was.

Then one day my friend introduced me to a handsome sweet intelligent man and I fell for him hard. I was
tired of being put down and bruised but my girlfriend assured me that he was good. She lied! He was
worse than the other two put together. It was pure hell and I didn't realize what pain really was till I was
with Jeff. He hit me every day even if he woke up in a good mood. I hated life and everyone in it. I
thought that this is how my life was meant to be so I stayed for 6.5 years till I couldn't take it no more.

He would call my job all of the time and make me bring home a register receipt to prove what time I left.
He held a gun to my head and said, If you want to die, let's do it." He would hit me in the face all of the
time. Everyone at my job knew he was mean but no one would help me. Finally after he broke my
windshield for the 3rd time I left and moved 20 minutes away and transferred to another store. He found
me once again.

He called us all hours of the night yelling nasty things to myself and my roommate. He threatened her a lot
and finally after 6 months of calls I finally agreed to see him in hopes of it being the last time. I was
hoping that he had realized that after 6.5 years of hate he would finally end it and be civil. I wanted him to
go on with his life so I could without him. I wanted to stop looking over my shoulder and my dreams
would stop keeping me up at night. I wanted sleep again. I wanted to smile again. I wanted to be ME

He invited me to his birthday party so I figured I would be safe. I was so tired from working 18 hours
straight but I made it to the party and there was other people there so I was ok with it. He was drinking
and taking Librium pills the next door neighbor got him. I should have known to leave but I didn't.

I fell asleep on the couch and I awakened to him standing over me just looking at me in a confused look. I
asked him what he was doing and he grabbed my throat and said, "you think you can just walk away from
me. No you can't." I froze for a moment because I had this strange feeling rush over me and I can't
completely describe it but it was scary. I knew then if I didn't get away from him I would die! I knew it
and I didn't know how but I was terrified beyond belief. I pushed him off and ran for the door. He got up
and chased me and it started a fight because I was determined to win this one. He grabbed my hair and
pulled and yanked it hurt so bad that I could barely stand the pain. I wrapped my arms around the railing
of the outside steps and held on for life. My arms began to bleed from scraping the wood rail back and
forth but I held on.

He finally got me loose and I fell to the top step with my face down hoping to pass out. I knew I had to
stay alive and that meant staying awake. He grabbed my head and began pounding it into the top step. It
hurt and all I could do was cry and fight back. I saw blood dripping onto the step and I knew I had to be
bleeding from my face now. It was a mess all over the steps. He yanked me up and I dropped to the steps
again and he kept telling me to get up and get inside and I kept yelling for help. No one listened. He
grabbed my hair and dragged me inside and I grabbed the doorway in hopes of tiring him out because I
was tired. I dug my nails into the wood frame around the door making my fingers bleed and nails breaking
from the pressure I could no longer hold on. I was now inside and he picked me up and threw me up
against the wall calmly talking to me saying that we were soul mates and we had to be together. He said
that our lives, especially his, was not going to be wasted by me. I owed him and I say I owed him nothing!
We fought some more hitting each other profusely not taking a breath. I pushed him away and he fell over
the end table he looked up and then unscrewed the table and came at me again and caught me right across
the nose. I felt dizzy and out of it.

I remember saying to myself if there is a God, please help me. I will never doubt Your existence again. I
never believed in God until that night. Jeff kept hitting me and made me walk the house with him. Finally
I had him convinced that we would marry tomorrow. He stopped. He brought me into the kitchen to wipe
my face off because he said I was a mess. He told me to go shower and change into some of his pajamas
and we would watch our favorite movie. I agreed. I rushed upstairs and got into the shower and cried so
hard it hurt. I looked down at the water and it was red all red. That's all I could see and I cried even more.
My face hurt so much that I couldn't bring myself to look at it. I got out of the shower and dried off
quickly and ran down stairs. He laid on the couch babbling about how I made him do that to me. He made
me make a promise to be good and to marry him. I was to obey him forever and we would never be apart

I waited for him to fall asleep. It was midnight so that meant we had been fighting for 1 hour. I was so
tired and dizzy but all I could think of was getting out. I waited for him to snore so I would know he was
asleep. I went to the back door and unlocked the first lock 2 more to go. I waited a little while longer and
opened another then another then I ran out the door as quickly as I could run. I ran down the steps and
didn't look back. My feet were bleeding from running down the rocky driveway. All I could think was
getting help.

I ran across the street to a neighbor's house it was 3:30 in the morning. I tapped on his window and begged
for him to let me in. He opened the door and let me in we called the police and it was now over for me and
him. I thank the Davidson county police of Tennessee for all their help. I get to live again. I am now 36
years older and am finally happy. I forgot what it was like to breathe on my own again. I haven't seen Jeff
in 3 years and I keep track of him. He is still in jail and I have found someone who is the best thing in my
life besides my children. 3 times is a charm - no the 4th is!!!!
A Gangs-Eye-View of the Bronx Streets
by Siddhartha Mitter

NEW YORK, NY January 09, 2008 —Street gangs have always been a part of life in New York City; in
some neighborhoods they’re a constant fact of life. WNYC’s Siddhartha Mitter spent time in the Bronx
with a teenager to get a street level view.

RICH: Like right here, the four buildings right there is the Blood area. The other side is Crip territory…

REPORTER: Rich Velez is sixteen and lives in the South Bronx, and as we drive around the Mott Haven
and Melrose neighborhoods he explains why kids are drawn into gangs.

RICH: Most people they get into it because they scared of other gangs and stuff like that, they scared to be
jumped by theyself… and some people get like, like look at my friend, he just got into Blood, and he
knows everybody, and nobody mess with him because he’s in the Bloods.

REPORTER: The Bloods are one of the largest street gangs in the Bronx and in the city. Like their rivals
the Crips, they are a national phenomenon that started in California, but they are highly decentralized or
even scattered into neighborhood sets that don’t always recognize each other. Claiming a gang affiliation
offers protection and also the allure of random violence.

RICH: … they like yo, get into this with me, yo. And they be like, nah, nah. And the Bloods be like, yo,
son, just hit this guy and get into it, it’s mad easy!

REPORTER: Rich knows from experience. He spent two years as a Blood in the Bronx, in a set that
claimed as its territory a stretch of Third Avenue from the Patterson projects at 145th Street down to the
Mitchel projects at 138th. He joined the gang when he was 14, which is a typical age for recruitment.

RICH: Basically they tell you to fight in an elevator. So it’s you versus four other guys…

REPORTER: His initiation ceremony was to fight members of the set in a project elevator from the
twentieth floor down to the ground.

RICH: It was actually fun doing it.

REPORTER: When he got out, he was a Blood.

RICH: Then the OG was downstairs, and he was like you in, he gave me the papers…

REPORTER: O.G. stands for Original Gangster -- the leader of the set. The O.G. welcomed Rich into the
gang with documents and codes to memorize:

RICH: The flag that binds my family is red and stained with the blood of my dead homies. My flag shall
never be torn, my flag shall never touch the ground, no blood on my flag shall never touch the ground.
That’s the oath.

REPORTER: The O.G. also conferred on Rich his street name, to reel off like a military rank whenever
called upon by a superior.

RICH: And who I be was Bloody Smoke, West Side, Rollin’ 20s… Yeah that’s like the shit that you gotta
spit when they go like that, when they shake your hand or whatever…

REPORTER: The names and codes aren’t just ritual. They help sort out which sets are considered
legitimate by other Bloods or Crips, and which ones are just wannabes. And they give gang members a
new identity, a family, to belong to -- in principle for life.

RICH: You’re in it, you’re in it. You can’t get out, you can’t get out. The only way you can get out is if
your OG dies… SM: So where we at right now? RICH: We at 149 and Jackson Avenue. And that’s a girl
named Jennifer, and I’m about to talk to her. …open your window, open your window!! … Jennifer! Yo!
Yo! Yo!

REPORTER: Rich may have been a gang member but in this moment he’s a neighborhood kid, pointing
out the places where his worlds overlap.

RICH: And this is my old school. This is a bad school. You would never want to see your kids in here. …
Alright, those is Bloods right there. … Two of them is Blood, and the other one is neutral. SM: But they’re
not flagging. RICH: No, they’re not flagging. But you see them in Cypress flagging.

REPORTER: Flagging means wearing distinctive gang colors: red for Bloods, blue for Crips, and so on.
But Rich says gang members often don’t flag, unless they’re on their turf where they feel in control. They
enforce their control by means of violence.

RICH: It’s like you hit this innocent person, basically. … Hit them to rob them.

REPORTER: Rich says that his set would attack people to take their wallets or watches…

RICH: …and sneakers. They’ll take anything that looks nice.

REPORTER: Rich says his set targeted Mexicans – a trend that activists say is on the rise. Mexican
immigrants tend to carry cash wages and often won’t go to the police if they’re undocumented. As Rich
saw it, Mexicans were trespassing:

RICH: ‘Cause every time we’ll be here, like there’ll always be a Mexican passing by. Say yo, take this
Mexican off our block. So the Mexican would get hurt, take his wallet…

REPORTER: As Rich describes it, his own set was somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of
criminality. He says he didn’t sell drugs, but he knew some who did. And he says there were guns
available. In general, though, Rich says that for most kids in street gangs, gang life is pretty monotonous.

RICH: Every day they do the same thing all over. Sleep, smoke, drink, sleep, smoke, drink, chill, chill…

REPORTER: The idleness is pervasive. But it’s also deceptive. Kids in the gang life do a lot of hanging
around, but they’re also alert to the presence of death around them. The city’s murder rate is at a historic
low, but it actually went up last year in 22 of 76 police precincts -- including the 40th precinct, which
covers much of the South Bronx. One murder victim in 2007, according to Rich, was his O.G.

RICH: He just died recently. He got shot. Fifteen times. By Crips. When he died, they told me that, yo, we
gonna go bang out…

REPORTER: Rich had a choice to make: Get out of the gang, or avenge the O.G. and get deeper.
RICH: I was like, uh-uh, you bugging. I was like, I’ll fight…

REPORTER: But Rich wasn’t prepared to shoot anyone.

RICH: …cause I ain’t trying to do no time. And they never went, so the Crips never died.

REPORTER: Rich recently almost did do time after being arrested for assaulting a Mexican. But he
managed to get probation. His brother works for an anti-violence organization, and they promised to
supervise him. Almost going to prison made Rich think twice. Now with the O.G.’s death, he had a chance
to get out. He took his case to the O.G.’s brother, who was taking control of the set.

RICH: He said why, started giving me questions about why do you want to leave the gang. I was like,
because I don’t want to be doing this the rest of my life, hitting on people with no reason. And he felt
offended, and he told me that. That’s why he told me to fight in the elevator…

REPORTER: It was back to the elevator. Rich had had to fight to get in, now he had to fight to get out.
When it was all over, he says, there were no hard feelings.

RICH: Yeah, I’m still cool with them...

REPORTER: Rich still sees the gang members around the neighborhood, but so far, he has stayed out of
trouble. He’s looking into G.E.D. programs so he can finish high school.

RICH: So now I’m free, in the ghetto…

REPORTER: These days Jonathan Figueroa, the older brother who helped Rich stay out of jail, is keeping
a close eye on him.

JONATHAN: he knows about his chances of going to jail, so he can’t act up, he can’t do anything foolish.
I think he’s realized that now, so he’s been much more calm, conscious of what he’s doing. SM: Are you
more conscious? RICH: Yeah. I think twice before I do something now… I control myself. I don’t let
people control me no more.

REPORTER: Rich Velez isn’t a Blood anymore, but he doesn’t yet have a new direction – a school
program, or a job, or anything else he can sink his teeth into and trust himself to succeed. He walked away
from the kind of identity and belonging the gang provided. At sixteen, his challenge now is to find a new

REPORTER: For WNYC, I’m Siddhartha Mitter

South Bronx Rhythm Resistance
By Timothy Murray
From the September 12, 2008 issue

The legal struggle continues for South Bronx-based hip-hop activists Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas,
who were aggressively arrested by New York Police Department officers June 18. The brothers,
members of the popular group Rebel Diaz, said they were trying to help a street vendor on Southern
Boulevard in Hunts Point who, they felt, was being harassed by police officers.

“We just kinda walked up on the situation that was happening in which the vendor was having his [fruit
and vegetable] produce thrown away by the NYPD and the health department,” said Rodrigo, 27, who
goes by the rap name RodStarz. “So our initial thing was to translate for the brother. He had his permit.”

Rodrigo said that at first the officers agreed, explaining that they were enforcing city health department
violations. Soon after, he said that several cops became aggressive, eventually forcing them to the
ground and handcuffing them.

Hip-hop activist and journalist Davey D commented on the June 18 incident on his blog, Hip Hop Daily
News: “According to witnesses, when RodStarz and G1 [Gonzalo’s rap name] asked for badge numbers
the police became agitated and turned around and started beating them with bully clubs [sic] and kicking
them in full view of other vendors and people on the crowded street. The two were dragged off bloody,
put into a police car …”

Both Rodrigo and Gonzalo, 22, have been charged with two misdemeanors — obstruction of justice and
resisting arrest. The initial charge of assault on a police officer was dropped after a cell phone video of
the incident taken by a friend of Rebel Diaz on his cell phone was widely released. (See: VIDEO)

After spending ten hours in a 9-by-12-foot central booking holding room with 42 other inmates at the
41st Precinct, the brothers appeared in criminal court the following day.

“Our main thing is that this is stuff that happens in the South Bronx all the time,” Rodrigo said. “And
more than anything we wanted to highlight that there’s a gentrification problem going on in the South
Bronx. … The police aren’t going to do a sweep of innocent vendors on their own,” Rodrigo continued.
“Look at the South Bronx right now, they’re pushing it as ‘SoBro.’ And part of this gentrification
process is cleaning out the street.”


A subsequent event complicated matters. On June 24 around 2 a.m., Gonzalo said that three NYPD
police officers in full uniform invaded his East Harlem studio without knocking or a warrant. He said
that with weapons drawn, the officers forced him, his roommate and a friend to their knees, put guns in
their faces and demanded to know who they were, accusing them of harboring a fugitive criminal
suspect. Moments later, he said that the officers departed just as quickly as they had arrived, down a side
stairway adjacent to the apartment. Once Gonzalo realized what had happened, he ran after the police
and was able to discern two badge numbers. The Venegas brothers called several precincts, all of which
were unwilling to claim the officers; they still wonder what really happened that evening.

“The questions as to why several armed police officers mysteriously and violently invaded my home
without any clear legal justification remain unanswered,” said Gonzalo in an official statement published
the New York City Independent Media Center newswire on June 25. “One is left only to think that the
occurrences of this morning are not a coincidence of mistaken identity, but a direct response by the
NYPD to an incident of police brutality I was involved in last week in the South Bronx.”

“We feel these are modern-day scare tactics,” Rodrigo said.G1, RodStarz and Teresita Ayala (rap name
“Lah Tere”) make up the hip-hop group Rebel Diaz. The Venegas brothers were raised by Chilean
political exiles on Chicago’s north side, and Ayala grew up in Humboldt Park, a primarily Dominican
and Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago. They strongly identify with a long lineage of activist
“We follow a line of musical conviction,” Rodrigo reflected, “The Nueva Canción movement in Chile.
Victor Jara. Silvio Rodriguez. We come from that history of struggle, even musically. Our work is a
reflection of what our roots are, which is resistance. That’s who we are.”

Rebel Diaz’s most recent song, “Bullpen Therapy,” sheds light on the politics of gentrification, which
they believe fueled the June 18 incident.

“See let me break it down/Let’s keep it real simple/The vendor got harassed by the health official/The
health official’s wishes were enforced by the commissioner/So the mayor and his investors can all get
richer,” raps Gonzalo. Meanwhile on the track, Ayala croons an echoey, melancholic chorus: “They got
me in handcuffs.”

Leah Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney with Bronx Defenders, filed for an “outright dismissal” of
the charges against the Venegas brothers at their Sept. 3 court hearing. She referenced scores of letters
written in support of the duo attesting to their positive work in the community. Judge George Villegas
adjourned the hearing and set the next date for Dec. 16.

NYPD public information officers failed to return calls requesting comment.

“Definitely for us, our home base is the SB, and that’s where we’re doing all our organizing work, Hunts
Point, the poorest congressional district of the United States,” Rodrigo said. “Whatever the results of this
case are against us, I think that we’re ready to stick to what is just and what we feel is right, and we have
to help our vendors.”

Class Constitution
Written, Ratified, and Amended by Members of the 7th Grade
Service Learning Class, 2008-2009

ARTICLE I: Contribute, Listen, and Learn

SECTION A: Contribute feelings to the class
i. Express yourself in a positive way
ii. Express yourself without violence
iii. Share likes and dislikes with classmates
SECTION B: Listen to and respect each other’s ideas and
i. Make eye contact with the speaker
ii. Nod in response to others’ statements
iii. Wait until others have finished before speaking
iv. Keep bodies still while other people are talking
v. Help others focus on the speaker
vi. Offer positive feedback to classmates
SECTION C: Learn something new from other members of the
classroom community
i. Rephrase what a classmate says
ii. Recall facts and details about classmates’ statements
iii. Ask a question
iv. Share an opinion
v. Use questions and feedback to grow stronger
SECTION D: Give feedback and respond to classmates’ ideas
and statements
i. If you agree, explain why
ii. If you disagree, give constructive criticism
SECTION E: Treat everyone in class equally


SECTION A: Cooperate during discussions and activities
SECTION B: Participate in entertaining activities
i. Hands-on activities
ii. Physical activities
iii. Visual activities (art, movies, etc.)
iv. Interesting work
SECTION C: Make sure our class project is interesting to all of us
i. Do something that will help us in our lives
ii. Come up with a list of things that we care about
1. Have everyone come up with suggestions
2. Do research to see what other people are doing and what we could
3. Vote on the things that we all want to do
4. Have class visitors to talk about issues in the community and
possible projects
5. Debate about why we want to help our community and what we
want to do
6. Interview other students (especially those who are not in after-
school programs)
ARTICLE III: Solve Problems Calmly and
SECTION A: A student who is having trouble meeting
expectations should reflect and write (in a reflection journal)
about why they are struggling
SECTION B: A student who is having trouble meeting
expectations should take a little while away from the group to
calm down
SECTION C: Students who are having trouble meeting
expectations should discuss the issue with the person who is
bothering them or with the teacher (after class)
SECTION D: Our class should discuss how our feelings are
leading to our actions
SECTION E: Students who come in late should silently join the
group (one person can quietly tell them what we are doing)

ARTICLE IV: Reflect Individually and as a

SECTION A: What are you feeling? If you could draw a picture
of what is going on in your mind, what would you draw a picture
of? What would be happening in the picture?
SECTION B: Draw a picture of what you are feeling, and what is
happening in your mind.
SECTION C: How did these feelings lead you to act?
SECTION D: Explain why you acted the way you did.
SECTION E: How did these actions affect other members of our
class? Why?
SECTION F: What do you need to do to make amends for your
actions? Who do you need to talk to? What do you need to say
to them? Are there actions that you also need to do?
SECTION G: Describe two (2) strategies you could have used to
better deal with your feelings.

(Signatures appear on original document.)
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