Monday, July 21, 2008

Hidden Curriculum

I have been dutifully reading my textbook as I am now in week two of the Summer III term. While I continue to enjoy my classes and the things I am learning about education and myself, a passage a read in the textbook the other day really caught my attention and touched on something I have been wanting to blog about for some time. The passage was the opening paragraph of a scenario on page 22 of the book Dynamics of Effective Secondary Teaching. It reads as follows: "It was a diverse group, with a mix of white students (mainly males), a number of African Americans, several Latinos, and two Native Americans." I was immediately struck by the fact that of the four racial groups described here, three are proper nouns that reflect that group's racial background in some way. The other lumps all light-skinned people into the general term "white"which is hardly a proper noun or says anything about the background of that group of people (like where they came from). Now, I'd bet that most people would look at this and ask me what the big deal was. But look at it again...what message is this sending to those "white" kids about the importance of their racial history, culture, and background? This is an example of a hidden curriculum; lessons taught by subtle hints and clues rather than direct communication.

It irritates me when people are so careful to use so-called "politically correct" terminology to define racial and ethnic minorities, then turn around and refer to the majority by the general color of their skin (and we all know that most "white" people aren't really white at all). How is that right or fair? Do "white" people not have history or culture? "White" people are a very diverse group, including Germans, English, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, just to name a few. Each have distinct cultural and genetic traits. If we're going to be so careful with everyone else, we need to be fair to everyone, not just minorities. If we want to use hyphenations to describe people, then be consistent; same with using general terms like "white" or "black". If it's not OK to use general color-related terms to decsribe a person or a group's racial makeup, then it should be that way across the board for all races. If it is OK, then it should be OK for all races.

Honestly, I am a big proponent of simply using "American" (or whatever nationality that person actually is) as much as possible, paricularly in light of the fact that many of the people we lump into "African American" or "Native American" or any of the other "-Americans" have many races present in their family history and thus in their appearance. Tiger Woods and Barack Obama are prime examples, even though many erroneously refer to them as "African Americans" despite that fact that Obama clearly has European-- excuse me-- WHITE ancestry as well as African and Tiger Woods' mother is of Asian (Korean I believe) descent and his father is of African descent and likely others as well. I have several different European ancestors including German, English, Scottish, and Slavic (among others), but I identify myself as an American, not a "German American" or "Scottish American". Why should one aspect of a person's heritage cancel out or take precedence over another? Is our obsession with "politically correct" racial and ethnic names the result of trying to be fair or of some kind of lame attempt to deal with guilt from actions our forebearers committed on minorities? If it was wrong to generalize them, why is it OK to generalize us now?

I also find it interesting that most of the people who are most anal about using the "politically correct" terminology are "white" themselves. The term "Native American", for instance, was not the idea of actual "Native Americans" but of whites who felt guilty over past atrocities committed by past Americans and early European settlers. This is known as "white guilt" where white people practically bend over backwards to prove they aren't racist by treating minorities better than their own race and then being heavily critical of their own race to the point of making people ashamed to be "white". While these "white guilt" people may view what they're doing as noble and just, in actuality it is no better than the discrimination that they are seeking to "correct" and it demonstrates a very condescending attitude like these minority groups need their help since they can't take care of themselves. Even the extremist group American Indian Movement is opposed to the use of the term "Native American" and instead uses "American Indian" (obviously!) and it seems most "Native Americans" still prefer the general term "American Indian" or even better to be called by their specific tribe (much like we rarely hear "European American" but instead hear the actual nationality like "German American"). To me "Native American" is a misnomer since anyone is a "native" if they are born here and since I was born in the U.S. that makes me a native American, but with European ancestry. Don't forget also that if migration theories are true, the "Native Americans" emigrated here as well...they just did it before the Europeans. Even "African American" is a misnomer to me since the vast majority of people we refer to as "African Americans" have little or no ties to Africa nor do they have exclusively African ancestry as I mentioned above. On top of that, anyone who moves to the United States from Africa would correctly be considered an "African American" but that doesn't mean they are black.

I honestly could go on forever on this. In the end, I'm not promoting abandonment of culture in favor of complete assimilation, but more of just being fair. Just because I'm part of the majority race in this country does not mean my heritage is any less important than any minority, nor does it mean I had anything to do with the bad things done to minorities by the majority in the past. The best way we can "atone" for the sins of past generations is to not repeat them. Reversing the sin doesn't solve the problem, it just continues it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This is Kirtland!

I had the opportunity to attend a performance of This is Kirtland! last night up in Kirtland, about an hour north of Kent. Kirtland played a pivotal role in the rise and development of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Church operates an historical area there. Since 2004, the Kirtland Ohio Stake of the Church has produced a musical about the early Latter-day Saints in the area. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 I was part of the cast and even in the first show, 2004, I helped set up the lighting with my dad. When I was part of the 2005 show, I was the first cast member not from the Kirtland Stake. Each year I was a member of the cast, I was a different character. This year, however, with grad school and the unstable situation with the house, I elected not to audition for the show. Looking back on that decision, while I certainly miss performing and the returning cast members I knew, I am glad I didn't do the show this year because I would've been stressed out and way more tired, not to mention I would've had less money due to the high price of gas. I had enough stress from classes, though it was stress that I could handle and I still had time for myself after getting all my papers and readings done for the day. As I said during the first summer session, I couldn't imagine having to come home from class and have only a few hours before I had to get to Kirtland for a rehearsal or show. I really enjoyed having the maximum amount of time to get my work done and really focus on school.

Well, that aside I did attend the performance last night and had a wonderful time. It was the first time I attended a performance of the show as an audience member since the very first opening night way back in July 2004. The big difference this time around in the audience is that I have the play practically memorized (doing some 60 performances and countless more practices will do that to ya) and I know most of the cast. I really enjoyed seeing everyone again and experiencing the show again. It really is a fun little show. Granted, it's hardly a documentary about the Latter-day Saint experience in Kirtland, which lasted from 1831-1838, but it does touch on a lot of the good that happened in Ohio and some of the challenges. The show is performed at the Kirtland Ohio Stake Center on Kirtland Road (SR 306) right near the Church's Historic Kirtland area. Basically it's a small stage in a gym. Many LDS church buildings have gyms and a small stage (in addition to the chapel or sanctuary used for Sunday services), but Kirtland's is one of the only ones I have ever seen that has a real theater floor (as opposed to just carpet) and it is somewhat deeper than a typical church stage. This show also has professional lighting installed (done by my dad!) and uses authentic period costumes, so it's way above a typical stake "road show" or other stake performance.

The Church does pageants all over the United States, usually in areas of historical significance. The largest of these is the Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York. It is performed roughly about the time This is Kirtland! is performed, but it is a completely different production. Hill Cumorah is a huge outdoor pageant that can have upwards of 9,000 people attending each performance. The stage is a complex multi-level structure built on the side of the hill, the very hill where Joseph Smith uncovered the golden plates in 1827 he would translate to become the Book of Mormon in 1830. The pageant dramatizes several important stories from the Book of Mormon. In addition, the actors have no spoken lines as all lines are pre-recorded. The cast and crew is literally in the thousands and people come from all over the country and even outside the US to be a part of it. It is truly a remarkable and impressive production and is the largest outdoor pageant in the United States. This is Kirtland!, on the other hand, is a much more intimate production. The entire cast and crew isn't even 100 and the crew itself is just a handful of people. Most scene changes are done by cast members. Cast and crew members themselves come almost exclusively from the Kirtland Ohio Stake, which excompasses a large section of northeast Ohio from the east side of Cleveland to just west of Ashtabula and as far south as Hudson and Hiram, Ohio. A few members of neighboring stakes (such as myself and others) have taken part in the cast as well, though distance is usually the biggest obstacle to people doing the show that live in outlying areas. A typical audience for This is Kirtland! is a few hundred and the biggest can only be around 600 or so since it is indoors. Another big difference is that This is Kirtland! is a musical; Hill Cumorah is a pageant. It always amazed and continues to amaze me when people even try to compare them. While they both serve to entertain and educate, they do so in vastly different ways. I'm glad we have both of them, though I wish the church would give This is Kirtland! a little more exposure. The pageants at Hill Cumorah and Nauvoo, both run from Salt Lake instead of locally, get a lot of press from the church when they are presented since they are considered "church-wide" productions. This is Kirtland! is a locally produced show, so everything involved with it, including publicity, is handled locally. A few LDS-themed travel sites now mention it, but not the main church website Hill Cumorah and Nauvoo have people sent to those areas to run their respective pageants. That can be a blessing and a curse if you ask me! I think the consensus here is that This is Kirtland! is better suited as a locally run show rather than one run from Salt Lake.

Well, being back definitely brought back a lot of memories for me. There are a lot of things I missed not being in the show this year, but also a lot of things I certainly didn't miss. I deinitley missed the people. Working with most of them for three straight summers was something I really enjoyed, so it was very nice to see them again and not only be remembered, but also to realize that I was missed this year. I also missed just performing as I enjoy being on the stage in front of an audience. I did get lots of opportunities to perform the national anthem these past few months, but being in a production like that is always special. Of course there were things I didn't miss either. For one, the commute from Kent to Kirtland is about an hour one-way, so with gas so high I didn't miss that long commute, especially as the show gets closer and I would have to make it every day. I also didn't miss the stress that comes with the rehearsals, particularly the final two weeks when they tend to be long and tedious, not to mention hot with the lights and costumes. I definitely don't miss the whole craziness with stage makeup. In a theater as small as the Kirtland Stake Center, very little stage makeup is needed, yet the makeup crew didn't seem to take that into account. It was like stage makeup had to be the same regardless of where it was being performed. Sorry...that's not the case! So many cast members were wearing such heavy makeup, especially the young kids. I noticed some cast members at the show last night that again had WAAAAAY too much makeup on. The point of stage makeup is to help the audience make out facial features better under the bright lights. If audience members can tell you have makeup on, you have too much. My first two years in the show I was so tan from working outside every day at Geauga Lake that I didn't even have to wear any makeup as I have dark eyes already and my skin looked like it had foundation on it from being darker. Last year, though, I wasn't as tan and the makeup lady insisted I wear stage makeup (she wasn't very tactful at giving makeup advice either). I did, but only minimal blush and foundation and Becky was responsible for putting it on. Lastly, I didn't miss some of the attitudes that seemed to exist. I always felt like I was viewed as some musical and theater novice despite my experience being in larger shows and what I had done in college. It was like my talents and abilities were being ignored, or at least so it seemed. It wasn't horribly bad, but I remember feeling that way when I would offer my opinions on things and it would get brushed aside.

Despite the negatives I've experienced at times, once the performances started the negatives pretty much disappeared, plus I enjoyed the associations and friendships I developed with the cast and crew (we came up with so many spoofs on just about every scene...). If not, I wouldn't have come back for my second and third year for sure! Being on stage and in character is quite an experience, but even more so when that character is a real person who lived a short distance from where the performances are! I fully intend on doing the show next year, though I recognize it will likely be very different as there will be a new director among other new cast and crew members. Grad school will be done by next May, so hopefully I will have at least a summer job so I can afford the gas to commute to Kirtland.

Notes on pictures: 1. Picture of the closing scene in this year's performance on July 17th; 2. Picture from song "He lives!" from the 2005 (my first year) show where I played several minor characters (as a member of the male chorus) including John Johnson; 3. Picture from the 2006 show where I played Professor Seixas and was also in the chorus; 4. Picture from the opening scene of the 2007 show where I played Newel K. Whitney; 5. Picture of the "Whitney family" at the end of the 2007 show run.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Refreshing Indeed!

One of the downsides of moving is leaving friends behind when you go from one place to another. While I have not legally "moved" since we moved to this house in 1983 (when I was all of 10 months old), with my mission and then my time at BYU-Idaho I have moved several times, so I still have friends in those areas and others as many have moved elsewhere. The benefit is that I have friends in many places that I want to visit, but the drawback is that I rarely get to see my friends and end up falling out of touch with them. Thankfully I have things like this blog, Facebook, MySpace, e-mail, and cell phones to keep in touch more than I would've been able to do a few years ago, but nothing beats face-to-face contact or at least a phone call. I've also complained to those closest to me that many times I feel like the only reason I have kept in touch with a lot of my friends is because I contact them but rarely the other way around. I have a select few friends that actually contact me out of the blue just to touch base; usually I'm the one that makes the contact. Of course it's not always like that, but too often that's how it seems.

Well, these last two weeks I've gotten some pleasant surprises. First, I got a call from my friend Elisa (Reyes) Burchett just seeing how I was doing and to tell me she is expecting! Elisa and I have been friends since 7th grade and still keep in touch pretty regularly even though we seem to go months in between contacts. Her and husband Todd don't live too far away either, so I've been able to visit them a few times already!

Next I got a phone call last Monday from my friend Lindsey (Smith) Fairbanks who was passing through the area with her new husband Dan (they make a great couple, by the way) on a large Eastern trip as they begin heading back to Utah. Lindsey moved here to Kent just before the start of our junior years in high school back in 1998 (we graduated in 2000) plus we went to church together. I hadn't really talked to her much since we went to a Utah Jazz-Cleveland Cavaliers game in Salt Lake City on Valentine's Day in 2007 other than a few text messages here and there and her wedding announcement, so it was quite an unexpected surprise to hear from her. We met for dinner on Tuesday at El Campasino in Stow (a Mexican place) and had a great time catching up, though I should've taken more time to actually talk to her husband and get to know him. I've noticed with a lot of my friends that get married, when I visit with them the spouse tends to get left out a bit since the things we talk about are things the spouse has little or no connection to. In this case, all the memories associated with Roosevelt and the Rootstown ward were things Dan, who grew up in Salt Lake City, had no connection to. We did discover that Lindsey's older sister Emily knows and graduated in the same class at Springville High School in Utah as current ward members (and my friends!) Nate and Susan (Olson) Jeppson, who moved from Salt Lake to Kent last year. Nate was called as bishop when I was called as executive secretary about a month ago (plus he's our home teacher) and Susan is the chorister in Primary (I am the pianist), so I have been able to work with both of them a lot and have come to really enjoy them (plus I love their kids!). What a cool family! When Lindsey and her family moved to Kent in 1998 they had come from Springville. Small world! Even more connection is that Lindsey has been living in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake (where her husband Dan is from) and the Jeppsons moved to Kent from Sugar House. Whooooooooa.

After meeting with Lindsey and Dan I was talking with my mom about how much I appreciated hearing from friends like that and being able to see them. I LOVE to visit with my extended family and old friends but almost always I am the one who does the traveling, some close, some not-so-close. Don't get me wrong; I do enjoy traveling, but it is rare that I have had a friend visit me here in Kent and it is nice to host once and awhile. Well, I was talking and she said it was "refreshing" and I said "refreshing indeed!".

Just when I was about to write this post last night, I got an e-mail from one of my most consistent and best friends, Michelle, and then an unexpected phone call from Andrea Sampsel, whom I and many others simply know as "Dre". I hadn't talked to Dre in who knows how long. She's been out in Las Vegas getting her masters at UNLV and working, so it was really great to hear from her again. The only downside was that her phone died while we were talking. Dang batteries! It's always good to hear from Michelle. She is one of my few friends who consistently contacts me by phone or e-mail (we always have long e-mails and phone conversations), plus she visits whenever she can. Of course I visit her whenever I can and have been able to make two visits since she settled in the Toledo area. Both Michelle and Dre attended Kent State with me the first time I was at KSU in 2000-2001. We were all part of an amazing Institute of Religion program and Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA), which was headed by Lindsey Smith's dad Harold.

Let's not forget some new friends that I am making here as part of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at Kent State. I finished the first five-week session (Summer I) yesterday, so summer classes are halfway over. I start the next session on Monday and have two professors who both taught at Roosevelt when I was there. Finally, the benefits of growing up in Kent! The cohort I am part of (same group of students for all our classes) is an amazing group. We're all so different, yet we all get along so well and enjoy being around each other. After our last class on Thursday, nine of us (there are 12 total) went to lunch at Rays Place in downtown Kent. We had so much fun just talking and celebrating the end of the term, plus I ended up getting a free lunch after my order wasn't placed right. Everyone had gotten their food and I hadn't, but thankfully Mari, one of my classmates, had a freakin boatload of fries that I helped eat. I'm laid back enough that it didn't really bother me (I was ready to pay), so getting it free was quite the bonus. The place was packed and loud and seemed a bit understaffed, so I wasn't upset at all that it had been missed. Things like that happen sometimes and I'd hope for the same patience and understanding if I were in his (the waiter's) shoes. In another small world case, I found out one of my classmates, Carolyne, knows some people (the Dutsons) I know from church things as they went to high school together near Alliance, Ohio. The Dutsons are in the Alliance Ward (congregation), which is a neighboring ward to my ward (Rootstown) and is part of the same stake (group of wards). Back to the MAT, it went pretty well and overall I was very happy with myself and my professors. Dr. Bruce especially made us all laugh a lot and is one of the best professors I have had in college. Too bad he's headed for a new position at the University at Buffalo (part of the State University of New York or SUNY)! Now, on to Summer III...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

I have to say that July 4th is one of my favorite holidays even though it's not one where we do a whole lot like Christmas or even a birthday. I enjoy seeing the fireworks and the displays of patriotism and the American flag, though I just wish I saw them more than just around the 4th of July, though Americans generally show more patriotism than other countries, particularly in the display of the flag. It seems, though, we're going through another one of those periods where it's not OK to be happy to be an American like we need to be ashamed or something because of this or that. Is life perfect? Hardly, but we have a lot going for us here and a lot of opportunities and freedoms that aren't enjoyed by most people in the world. That doesn't mean we don't have problems or difficulties or that everything is better here, but it does mean we have plenty to be grateful for. Do people who complain ever stop to think that in many places in the world they don't even have that right to complain?? I'm not talking about someone who just complains here and there-- everyone complains sometime-- I'm talking about the people who are never happy or satisfied; always critical and full of complaints but short on solutions; the grass is always greener somewhere else. You know who I'm talking about! I, for one, am VERY glad I was born and raised in the United States and count my blessings that I live here and am an American citizen! Hurray for the USA!

Now, onto other things! For starters I am in the midst of the final push for my first 3 summer classes as the Summer I term comes to an end next week. In Foundations of Educational Psychology we are doing projects on an area that interests us, so I chose applying curriculum to the real world. We can write a paper about what we learned or do an "original" creation. I'm no fan of writing long papers where I have to worry about a specific citation style (APA 5th in this case), but I've had the hardest time thinking about how else I could put it all together. I know I like to blog and do things online, I can do things on Photoshop, and I can put together decent slideshows. I'd really like to make a short video, but am short on one critical piece of equipment: a video camera! I could write a song, but honestly, what kind of song could be worth listening to or singing about applying curriculum to the real world! Can you say BORING?!? Hopefully as I finish my research this weekend I can get some inspiration. Who knows, maybe I'll just put a quick website together!

As part of this project I met up with a former teacher to get his insight on my topic. I met up with my former history teacher Bruce Dzeda on Wednesday in downtown Kent at the Wild Goats Cafe (never been there before...loved it!). I had Mr. Dzeda as a freshman for Western Civilization and again as a junior for Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History. There are many experiences and quotes that I will always remember from his classes and of course actual content as well. It was good to meet with him and catch up (we agree on a lot of issues, particularly local), but also to get his insights and opinions on the matter, particularly in convincing students why we need to cover certain subject matters in a curriculum (establishing relativity). I really liked how Mr. Dzeda said that they need to understand that the different subjects do work together to help us understand things better and that students need to know things like that "because that's what educated people know." That doesn't mean they will necessarily use that information all the time or even that often, but you never know when it's going to be needed.

My Kent State diploma finally came this week...nearly 2 months after I actually graduated. It's nice to have to say the least! It was kind of anti-climactic though. It was just on my desk when I got home the other day; something I felt so many times like I'd never get and there it was. All it is is a piece of paper and really, without the completion of my masters program, it won't be worth much more than a piece of paper. For now it's going to sit on my other desk with my high school diploma until I figure out what to do with it and things settle here.

I don't think I mentioned that I have started teaching piano lessons. Today was the third week I have been doing them with three students I know from church. I was hesitant to take them, not because of them, but because they are my first venture into this realm of teaching piano so I'm learning as much as them! Thankfully I have a wonderful sister-in-law who has mucho experience in that area and gave me some valuable pointers plus I have students with supportive and patient parents. I had been asked a few times if I did teach piano and I never felt ready or even qualified before. I'm no pianist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know the basics and I have a lot more training since I was first asked back in 2000 and 2001! My biggest worry is that I'm not too boring for my students and that they enjoy it overall even when it seems tedious. I know I'd be a better piano player if my first teacher had been nicer and more enjoyable to be around. Going to piano lessons with that old woman was something I dreaded every week because she did not inspire me in any way; she worked more through fear and intimidation than anything. Thankfully I had a really good piano teacher when I started again as a high school senior in the fall of 1999 who helped repair that damage and really get me on track as a better piano player! Now I just need to make sure I don't destroy my students' desire to play the piano either!