Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Right To Choose

I remember it from my childhood, the commercial for Tootsie Pops. The question has been answered here. Today, I am wondering, how many positive interactions does it take to convince a student to change his current course of action?
In chapter two of The Trouble with Black Boys, Pedro Noguera examines structural and cultural explanations of behavior. The structuralists believe that "individuals are...products of their environment, and changes in individual behavior are made possible by changes in the structure of opportunity" (24). This thought process means that "...holding an individual responsible for his or her behavior makes little sense since behavior is shaped by forces beyond the control of any particular individual" (24).
On the other hand, the culturalists explain behavior "as a product of beliefs, values, norms, and socialization. Cultural explanations of behavior focus on the moral codes that operate within particular families, communities, or groups" (25). As a result, the culturalist believe that unless we chance the "culture of poverty," any money or programs offered to schools of poverty will fail.
When I examine the behaviors of my school, these two philosphies battle for top dog. I recognize that without the societal structures--affordable housing, access to healthcare, or an honest venue to be heard--many of my students will continue to approach school with hopelessness. Why bother if the man is trying to hold them down? But while I recognize that structure affects my students, I see the need to affect the culture of poverty from which they come. Unless parents value education or students make better choices about how they live their life, success will continue to elude them.
And so the question becomes important. What does it take on all levels (halls of the school to halls of Congress) to address the structure and culture of poverty stricken schools? How many times do we have to demonstrate that we are truly concerned with them before our toughest students make the choice to improve their behavior?
And for me and you, the classroom teachers, to what extent can we influence our most disaffected students?


At 1:14 PM , Anonymous Joe said...

“How many positive interactions does it take to convince a student to change his current course of action?”

Interesting question. Of course, the answer is: anywhere from one to a million.

In my early days of dating, when a girl would say to me, “I love it when you touch me like that,” believe me, that positive interaction changed my course of action immediately, and forever after touching her like that became a part of my repertoire. Actually, negative interaction under such heightened conditions had a similar effect. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” was very effective in suppressing a particular course of action, eager though I might be to pursue it.

I’m not being completely facetious here. Whether the interaction was positive or negative or happened once or many times, only made a difference if the object involved was something I believed I truly wanted. Mr. Noguera’s summary of the dichotomy between culturalists and structuralists, is interesting but somewhat beside the point when applied to student actions in the classroom. When the students are dancing instead of focusing on the question you propose, they are telling everyone that they don’t see what you are presenting as something they really want. They are making it crystal clear that they have not bought into the importance of having an academic discussion of WGASH’s failure to “teach” (read, “civilize”) them. You may take that to show that they don’t know what’s good for them. The problem with drawing such a conclusion is that there is no place to go with it. (By the way, Noguera’s title annoys the heck out of me. Anyone else?)

To influence your disaffected students, you have to convince them that you respect them, you respect their time, you respect their needs. If they believe that, they will give you the benefit of the doubt when you present your wares, and provide you with a small window of time to show them that what you have is something they want.

Go ahead, ask me how you do that.

At 4:32 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

wait for it...wait for it...How do you do that?

At 7:20 AM , Anonymous Nathan said...

"And for me and you, the classroom teachers, to what extent can we influence our most disaffected students?"

I struggle with that all the time. It seems the deck is stacked against us - so much of students' attitudes get shaped by outside forces (home, family, etc.) and our time with them is so limited. Just how much can I reasonably do for a student when I have him or her for 50 minutes with 30 other kids?

I am fairly fortunate that my school district right now has actually made "building healthy relationships" a district-wide emphasis. More than just a feelgood initiative, it is a research based effort to improve overall success by fostering healthy working environments for students and staff. It's not perfect, but it is very refreshing to have leaders with priorities in line with my own.

At 3:25 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I want real reform. The type of reform that will affect our students when and where it really matters--outside of our walls. Parent-school relationships can go a long way towards affecting what poverty stricken schools cannot currently address through Positive Behavioral Support or Effective Teaching Strategies, which are merely band-aids for a much larger cut.

At 4:24 PM , Anonymous Syd said...

Have you checked out the Amistad Academy in New Haven, CT? The Amistad model interests me a lot, mostly because of the strong parent connection. Those are poverty-stricken children who are finding real success through a sort-of tough love approach. And, the best part is that in order to be enrolled at the school I believe the parents have to agree to a certain level of involvement.

At 5:53 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I've only briefly looked at the Amistad Academy. I'm fascinated with the charter school approach--often wondering if it would work in the area I teach in. Unfortunately, public schools don't have quite the same capacity to require much from its students or parents. If we had the ability to boot kids who don't behave, we would be succeed academically at a higher rate.


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