My foundations

December 31, 2012

This essay from Graduate School is fascinating for me to read again. My teaching has evolved so much yet I am still so rooted in the ideas that preoccupied me as a beginning teacher. Below is a section that reflects on my path towards teaching: 

The point of departure for my teaching career is more like the blotch of a spill than a point. This is because my beliefs about teaching reflect the many memories and vast knowledge that I carry from different previous experiences. One of the earliest influences of the way I view the world and the way I approach teaching was my childhood in Chappaqua, New York. In Chappaqua I experienced what is considered a “superior” public school system from the inside. Growing up in a supportive family structure gave me the confidence to begin to explore other realities. I revisit these early experiences and associated beliefs in my literacy paper.

An undergraduate education at Penn exposed me to the dissonances of an elite, exclusive institution located in a city facing severe issues relating to institutionalized social inequality. I struggled to remain engaged while attending large classes where the subject material and the professors often felt disconnected from my interests and the world around me. I spent my third year of University living in Jerusalem where I became involved with an Israeli-Palestinian coalition group. This experience drastically changed my life and my view of the world. My daily reality and what I learned from the people around me contradicted the “truths” I read in American and many Israeli newspapers. I would never be able to look at knowledge, text, or beliefs in the same way. My worldview began to include constant considerations of power, voice, representation, and resistance.

My return to Philadelphia and connection to social movements in this city deepened both my analysis and conviction. Over the next several years I was privileged to be able to live and work in the Copper River Valley in Alaska, the Gullah Islands in South Carolina, Akom-Ndong village in southern Cameroon, and several woodshops in Philadelphia. Although these experiences have varied greatly the learning has been cumulative and somewhat linear. Despite the fact that there are enormous differences between their cultures and their social rank, in a general sense the issues facing the Athabascan people in Alaska don’t differ that greatly from the issues of the Bulu people in southern Cameroon or the Gullah people in South Carolina. Although I was less personally connected to each of these situations than I was in Jerusalem (because of my Jewish identity), it was clear that I did have a connection to all of these struggles because of my status as a white, male resident of the developed world and my connection and access to the culture of oppression.

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