Friday, November 23, 2012

Political Musings pt 3- Social Justice Education

(I think I was feeling a little gloomy when I wrote this post but I'll share it anyway. None of us are one mood robots, eh?)

So, being a product of a liberal arts education and more or less a supporter of Freire, I consider myself a proponent of social justice education. The thing is, for me it gets personal. I don't have conversations about social and systemic injustice in a way that is vague and more theoretical than not. So, the question I've begun to ask myself is, "Just how much of myself and my personal interests am I to let into the classroom?" Do I even have the option or the capacity to make such a decision?

I've had a few classes now covering President Obama's acceptance speech, and also the speech Bruce Springsteen gave the day before elections.
When I tell my students flat out that the American Dream is a lie, is that going a bit too far? I felt it might have been. When I tell them to be aware that I have a particular U.S. experience that comes with its own set of biases I want them to be critical of the information I present to them. But if I'm honest with myself I want them to be critical of it in the way that I am. Since Italy is almost completely pro Obama I haven't had much push back, but I still get this impression that I'm trying to indoctrinate a new generation of freedom fighters.

But it's just so personal! I just can't believe in a dream that says that many of the people I grew up with in the Boston "hood" of Dorchester, or in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans just didn't try hard enough to succeed. I can't believe in a dream that blames someone for not being able to overcome generations of ingrained societal hierarchies and prejudices that we pretend don't exist any more. Kinda like that Sicilian I met at Lago d'Iseo who swears to me and anyone else who will listen that the mafia no longer exists in Sicily.
But I digress.

I've also been working with a teacher on movies such as Apocalypse Now (based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness) and Last of the Mohicans, and that got me to thinking about the colonial aspects of education, the power of culture and language in the classroom, and the ways in which I don't realize I assume a particular type of Italian culture or experience of my students. Only recently has it really stuck with me that some of my students aren't actually Italian citizens. Even some of the ones who were born here. I realize that in my classes I make blanket questions about Italian culture without stopping to ask about the other cultures students come from or other experiences they can compare this one too.

So once again I've come to this crisis of identity: The acknowledgement of my own acts of oppression despite often viewing myself as the oppressed. The difficulty and downright annoyingness of acknowledging that time and time again could be why I never seem to remember the lesson.
The thing is that I know my education gives me power and access I can't deny. So does living in Europe, having an ipod, a Mac, and a guitar that I can play.  No matter how old and dilapidated these items are, and no matter what struggles I face here in Milan, all of these are still symbols of wealth and status, of certain approved of life experiences. But you know, I think status is invisible. Or at least somehow deeper than the surface level of how many places you can pin on your facebook map,  the name brands on your back and the electronic devices in your pocket or on your desktop. No matter how much I learn or acquire I don't think I'll ever feel any different from a poor Afro-Latina who will always be sensitive about how people judge her by her cover.

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