Culture shock – sometimes you just don’t expect it!
It has taken me a while to write this post, as it has been filled with lots of emotion on a really deep level. It has caused me to be brutally aware of what I value in education. I wasn’t expecting to feel so confronted or to react in such a way. I feel glad that I have had such a strong response to these things, but at the same time am concerned. Do I miss these things in my own culture, due to being immersed in it and it being ‘normal’.
The other week the speaker at Rotary talked about an Amesville Elementary School that had suffered funding cut backs and the result was no provision for a librarian which led to the school library finally closing a year ago. Immediately my heart sank at understanding their predicament. My firm belief is that libraries are extremely important to learning and supporting learning. They provide incredible resources, not just in the books or technology that can be found in them but in the human resource. Librarians are incredible people, their knowledge and ability sift through things and provide solutions astounds me. In my own teaching career I have relied heavily on the librarian, they have been a sounding board, a thought provoker, a source of knowledge and so much more. My classes have benefitted from the impact that one person has had on my teaching practice. To know that a school does not have a librarian (teacher/librarian), someone who is passionate about that space (regardless of the form that it takes, being aware that some schools are considering dispersing the library around their school) and its involvement in learning, would strongly suggest a significant element is missing with regard to supporting learning. How would I operate as a teacher in that school? Who would support me in the way I am usually supported by that person? What flow on impacts would occur in my classroom?
This school is a privileged one in the sense that there is a wonderful retired librarian and a committed group of caring people who have spent many hours of their own time trying to change this situation. The old books have been sorted through and removed (there were lots of them, most being published in the 50’s and 60’s) and a fundraising campaign is underway, with a target of raising $16000. These students and teachers will benefit from the kind generosity of this group of people, and more so from the depth of knowledge that the retired Librarian brings to the situation. She is currently ensuring that any books purchased are fit for purpose, fit for the inquiring student minds that exist in that school.
The other situation that occurred, which you would be aware of due to media coverage, is that of the shooting and consequent passing of Michael Brown. The moment that I felt utter despair was when I read about the school he attended. It can be found here, and is worth reading, http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/14/this-was-michael-browns-high-school/. Diane Ravitch is an educational historian here in the USA and her work is certainly worth reading. She has a position on Charter schools and other aspects of education reform, she is honest about her own journey with regard to such policies that have been implemented and their consequent impact. One piece she wrote in 2010 can be found here http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/summer2010/Ravitch.pdf. It too is worth taking the time to read, it is rather long so I suggest if you choose to read it that you have a quiet space and some time on your hands.
So for me the culture shock has not been the food or the little things that occur from day to day, but a significant realisation that equity and equality are important to me on a very deep level. So much so, that they have resulted in me feeling angry, despair, and sadness and led me to question my responses. What is it that’s evoking such emotion, do similar inequalities and inequities exist in Australia, do I not notice them? How do I ensure that in situations that I have the ability to bring about effective change, that these are at the forefront of decision making…