Yagelski “English Education”

I was quite excited to read that Robert Yagelski will be coming to class on Tuesday night. This also makes me quite nervous to be facilitating the discussion on his chapter.

This chapter begins with an interesting question: “What, ultimately, are we educating our students for?” (Yagelski 275).
This reading reminded me of the Apple reading, because it takes up the issue of ideology in academic institutions.  The conclusion of this chapter suggests that we use the power of the institution for change, rather than sustaining the status quo.

Here are some points that I would like to bring up for discussion.

1. Last week we all blogged about our beliefs regarding the teaching of English. Does this article change your beliefs at all?

2. Yagelski says that we need to “understand our selves as beings-in-the world and to adjust our educational practices accordingly.” Who are you as a “being-in-the-world” and who are the students? What is your relation to the rest of the world? What is your students’ relation? How can your educational goals reflect these relationships?

3.  Yagelski examines the roles of modern and post-modern thinking on English education. Do you think one or both of these theories should be abandoned? Can we teach without the ideology of social and economic utility? Based on this quote from McNeil, “Our present high schools were organized, and their reward structures set, at a time when schools were being overtly and deliberately used as agents of economic and social control,” do you think that schools can achieve something besides a reinforcement of socieo-economic divides? Can schools work outside of this system while it’s still in place?

4. Criticism of standardized tests have become commonplace. This chapter takes up this criticism. In what other ways can students show their aptitude? Be creative!

5 . Can teachers change society be engaging students? I am particularly interested in the response from those who already had teaching experience. It seems that in many schools, the students “don’t want to learn.” I put this in quotes because I know this categorization can further disable already unmotivated students. Last week, Professor Stearns mentioned working at Fowler High School. This school is a perfect example of a school that would be hard to change. Is it possible to bring change in these students lives? Why haven’t we seen more change occurring when there have already been so many efforts at reform?

6. There is a strong political charge to this chapter, especially at the end. Is politics an inherent part of teaching English? Is it a vital necessity? Would ELA survive without it?

Hopefully these questions, along with Ray’s thoughts will help make this article more meaningful for everyone!

-Allison

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Yagelski “English Education”

  1. sunyprof

    Oh Dear Allison, I’m sorry if I gave that impression. Bob will respond on the blog. He’s a prof. at SUNY Albany–he was on our campus last month for our kickoff…I only wish he would be here next Tues. night. But because of our blog we can access his thoughts!!!

  2. allison

    OH! Well, that’s great too! Yay for technology!

  3. Bob Yagelski

    Hello to Prof. Stearns’ class. I must apologise for my “absence” after accepting Prof. Stearns’ invitation to join your conversation on this blog. I have been nursing a severe case of sciatica for the past few days, and it’s only in the last 24 hours that I’ve even been able to sit at my desk. So although I have read through the posts on the blog, I have been unable to post my own comments until now. I’m sorry if I threw off your schedule for discussion.

    Thank you, Allison, for your thoughtful questions about my article. You raise many good questions, but let me take up two of them.

    You write, “Do you think one or both of these theories should be abandoned? Can we teach without the ideology of social and economic utility? Based on this quote from McNeil, ‘Our present high schools were organized, and their reward structures set, at a time when schools were being overtly and deliberately used as agents of economic and social control,’ do you think that schools can achieve something besides a reinforcement of socieo-economic divides? Can schools work outside of this system while it’s still in place?”

    In a sense, you are posing here a question that many of us in English education have wrestled with for many years: Are we agents of social change or advocates for the status quo? Although I’m sure it’s clear from my article which I am (unapologetically, I should add), the question is really a very fundamental one that gets at the very foundation of your beliefs about education, literacy, and the role of schooling in society. In my view, no teacher should teach without confronting this question and being able to offer a reasonable answer to it. That answer is likely to change over time, as one gains experience and deepens his or her understanding of teaching and learning. But to teach without reflecting on the fundamental purposes of education seems to me to be unethical and irresponsible. How can you determine what or how to teach if you don’t first know *why* you are teaching? That’s why I believe courses like Prof. Stearns’ are so important for new teachers. They are among the very few places where teachers actually have the opportunity to think carefully and critically about *why* they do what they do.

    As for the possibilities for change that you allude to in your question, I can tell you that I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t think those possibilities were real. Given the fact that formal schooling may be the single most influential institution in contemporary society (experienced by virtually every American), schools represent an enormously powerful vehicle for change. They are also deeply conservative institutions that resist change–and whose purpose has increasingly been defined in economic terms. The challenge is to harness their capacity to influence our culture for the better, rather than simply to prepare students for a status quo that clearly needs to be improved. That’s a big challenge. But then, what could be a more important one?

    I hope to continue to participate in your blog discussions in the next week or so. Thank you again for your questions.

    Bob Yagelski

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