This is a guest post by Susan Biggs
I’ve been meaning to take some time to reflect in writing about the conversation I’ve been engaged in recently with a cohort of National Writing Project colleagues concerning Content Area Literacy. I’m a former H.S. English teacher who now works in professional development with my local writing project, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, working with teachers to improve learning in our schools. The opportunity to guest post here on Joel’s blog seemed like the right time.
Power. I can’t stop thinking that it is all about power. This thought surfaced after reading the article, “Why Content Literacy is Difficult to Infuse into the Secondary School: Complexities of Curriculum, Pedagogy, and School Culture.” The article is a bit dated, 1995, and thank goodness I read it amongst a community of learners. It was a challenge to get through. It is less what the article says, and whether I agree with it or not, and more about the conversations that grew from the collaborative reading process.
In secondary schools, sub-cultures grow out of the separation of content areas and a sense of hierarchy is created through this separation. This, along with the structures within a school, help create this inequity of power. As long as this separation and hierarchy exist, school change will be difficult. In fact, I wonder whether those changes that do happen can be sustained if they exist in a culture and structure that contradicts them.
Take for instance, band at my own children’s middle school. First off, it isn’t considered a piece of the core curriculum. It is pushed aside as “other,” labeled as an elective course. Yet, such important learning happens or could be happening here. Literacy is infused in the world of music. Kids read, listen, speak, and write music. In fact, I’d like to suggest, as many others have, that music education supports and expands all learning. Yet, by not considering it part of the core curriculum, kids and teachers think differently about these courses. It is undervalued. Discipline is always an issue in these courses. And I’d like to question whether that might be rooted in the fact that kids and the school community don’t see these courses as “core.” Interesting how important language is. And why is it that a hierarchy of power exists even within this music education world. At this particular school orchestra reigns (the real serious world of music), band chimes in next, with the world of chorus sitting at the bottom.
Consider even the name: band. Why not call it “music education,” since it truly is one of three choices students have: band, orchestra, and chorus?
Consider the schedule. It is the first course cut during any shortened day.
Maybe it will maintain this identity and status until the state decides that kids will take one more standardized test—in the area of music. Why do we allow others to tell us what’s important in education and learning?
So, how can we work together as teachers to integrate literacy into our content areas, or unearth and share the literacy education that’s already happening there, if the separation of content areas and the structure of schools encourages us to think that literacy belongs to them—those English teachers?
The question that really echoes inside my head and will guide my inquiry this year is this: What other areas of quality instruction and learning is this structure of hierarchy that we’ve bought into getting in the way of? Power. I can’t help thinking it is all about power. Visit me over at WordPower for more conversation about the power of words and the world of learning.