Cultural Identity and Disability – How My Sensory Processing Disorder has Shaped My Cultural Perspective

I am an American, born and raised in California in the same town that my several times great-Grandfather moved to from New York. We have lived in the town for six generations. On my great-Grandmother’s side, we can trace our heritage back to the Mayflower. In every way that matters, my family is culturally and religiously part of the white Christian majority in the United States. This is where I find my cultural identity, where I have always lived and where my family has always remained. Though my city is diverse and I am willing to learn about other cultures, I have yet to change my own very much. And yet, I find that I often feel as if I am an outsider in a culture in which I am supposed to be an insider.

In many ways, I am an outsider in my own culture, not because of my culture, not because of the tone of my skin or my outward appearance. I am an outsider because of the neurological makeup of my body. I live with a neurological disability called Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, which affects how my body receives and interprets sensory information. My body’s eight (yes, eight – three are internal) senses can read information just fine. It’s interpreting what they’re reading that gets confused. Some of the things that most people find completely normal I find physically painful or otherwise intolerable. If I eat melted cheese, for example, my body physically gags at the sensation and spends the next hour or two shuddering after the experience. Yes, this does indeed mean that I cannot eat pizza, or grilled cheese, or enchiladas, and yes, I do realize just how strange that seems to my fellow Americans.

This disability affects far more than just whether or not I can eat pizza, though. As a child, before I received occupational therapy, I was unable to brush my hair because the touch of a hairbrush to my head made me scream in agony. I could not wear jeans because the seams felt like needles going into my skin, and I couldn’t get my fingers around the buttons even if I could tolerate the material. I wore sandals year-round because I didn’t have the fine motor skills to tie my shoes until 3rd grade. If I couldn’t tie shoes, I definitely didn’t run right, nor did I play sports well.

The outward appearance issues were just the start. One’s ability to read and understand social cues is controlled by one’s sensory processing. Part of that facility in the brain is a sensory “filter”. Located in the frontal lobe (right behind one’s forehead), this filter will cut out sensory input that’s not important, like fans and air conditioners, and tune out conversations around a person in a busy environment so that they can focus on the one conversation in front of them. When reading body language this skill is key, as reading and interpreting body language requires that one’s senses not only pick up on small changes in someone’s facial structure, but interpret them correctly and know what they mean. If one is constantly distracted by the world around them, this is nearly impossible. Since I do not have a sensory filter, it takes me more effort and time to read someone’s body language than it does the average person.

This had several implications on my social interactions. I was outwardly extremely strange. Because I didn’t brush my hair, it became a brown bush that frizzed everywhere. Because I couldn’t wear jeans nor buttons, I donned velvet leggings and soft-fabric shirts, which often resulted in some interesting color combinations. And because I couldn’t tie my shoes, I often wore sandals in the rain. Socially, I was even worse than I was outwardly. I saw the world in black-and-white, and thought everyone else did, too – I couldn’t imagine others being mean to me, or lying to me, or spreading rumors about me. Surely everyone around me just wanted to be friends? I wasn’t able to partake in many of the games because of intense insecurities around my physical capabilities, which were entirely understandable considering my coordination issues. I also didn’t see group constructs, and had trouble identifying exclusive groups from open and friendly ones. I was always very friendly, and frequently initially got along with people, but I didn’t often keep those friends, and I think this has more to do with my differences than anything else.

As a kid, my personality was driven by my sensory issues, and my classmates didn’t understand that at all. I was constantly left out of activities if not outright bullied, especially in elementary school and middle school. Other students frequently spread rumors about me, or called me names, or lied to me. People I considered friends because we played once or twice together would, the very next day, show that they were anything but. Although this improved in high school, I often was left out of activities outside of school, and would come to find out through social media that my friends had, yet again, decided to go to an event without me. It was rare for people to come to events which I hosted, too, and I often found myself creating three or four lists of people to invite just to get a small group together. I have only two friends from my growing up years that I remain in regular contact with, and only one of those I went to school with.

As a child I always felt different, and I think a part of me knew that I was somehow different from the world around me. I never felt, however, that I should have to change who I was to fit in. I didn’t think my differences were as big as others made them out to be, and was frequently upset when I discovered that others weren’t as true as I hoped they were. And yet I constantly tried to become close to someone because I so longed for that feeling of “sameness”, of inclusion and acceptance.

I didn’t really begin understanding the differences I had until my senior year of college, where I began working on the issues I described and had much success in growing in my ability to make and keep close friends. I started researching my disability and learned how much it affected my understanding of the world around me. And the more I read, the more I finally understood the culture in which I lived – why people insisted on small talk, for example, or how to tell when someone wanted to leave a conversation. As I read, I practiced, and became so proficient in participating in conversation and reading group dynamics that very few realize I have a disability anymore. I seem a bit odd, they say when they find out, but not entirely different from the vast majority of the culture around me.

It is only within the last seven years, then, that I have felt – and been – wholly accepted and included in different groups. My current friend group is a college and young adults ministry in town. Though I was initially accepted primarily because I went to the ministry, over time this group has shown themselves to be the true friends I sorely lacked growing up. Where before I would have been left out of events, I now have group events multiple times a week. Where I once would have had to wring arms to get people to come, I now just have to make sure I invite people with enough notice for them to schedule it. I no longer feel that I have to hide my sometimes intense personality or many random quirks. For one of the first times in my life, I feel truly free around my friends, and feel sure that I can trust them – not just because I want to believe I can, but because they have earned that trust. Many new faces are currently joining our group, and we all try to include them in this community we have created, actively seeking them out and connecting with them to build the close relationships we have with each other.

Many people from minority backgrounds express feeling and experiencing an “other-ness” attitude from those around them. They are perceived as being “other”, as being “less than”, because of their different worldview, their different mindset, their different appearance. Although I have never experienced that in regards to my race, or my cultural background, I definitely understand that feeling because of the ostracism I faced in my growing-up years. And I completely understand the research that states that there are two responses people have to this experience. They either become determined to prove everyone wrong, and to show that they can do just as much as everyone else, or that their culture is just as important as everyone else, or they become determined to show just how awful they truly are (Suarez-Orozco). I have begun to realize just how much my minority students struggle with this experience, and because of my own experiences on being “outside”, I can at least relate to the feelings they must be facing.

For some, the experience of being “outside” in the American culture convinces them that the American dream is nothing but a farce, a nice piece of propaganda presented by the American majority that in no way reflects reality, but for me, the experience of being “outside” drove me to prove the American dream true. I am culturally American and I culturally believe in the American ideals because I am the product of them. I am a woman, and I have a disability. In many other cultures, both would have found me uneducated, unable to hold a job, despite my many capabilities. In America, I was given the resources I needed to achieve in school – occupational therapy, a 504 plan which supported my many sensory quirks – and was taught that I was just as capable as those around me. I was held to the same standard, and because of that I am a successful, independent adult, teaching and earning her Master’s degree. If I had not been given those opportunities, if I had not been taught to accept any challenge life threw at me,  and if I had not chosen to face those challenges in pursuit of my dreams of teaching and impacting others, I would not be the person I am today. Despite the many challenges we may face in life, it is my firm belief that each person is as capable of achieving success as they choose, and obstacles are merely there to prove that each person is more capable than even they originally thought. I hope that I can be as inspirational to my students in this matter as my teachers were to me, despite the many (and in some ways, much more challenging) obstacles they face in their lives.

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Sources:

Brown, Dr. Lorraine. “International Education: A Force for Peace and Cross-Cultural Understanding?”

Ladsung-Billings, Gloria. “Critical Race Theory and Education”. UNCA Ramsey Library Video Production – YouTube Video.  [2015]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=katwPTn-nhE

Pollock, Dr. Mary. “Adopting an Anti-Racism Framework”. Teaching Tolerance – YouTube Video.      [2012] Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV3vvhQ5xf8

R, Yasameen. “Yasameen Tells Her Story “. Facing History. YouTube Video. [2009] Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnlqgv7kv30&feature=player_embedded

Robbins, Charles L. “Social Justice – Is It Still Relevant in the 21st Century?” Tedx Talks – YouTube Video [2014]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wtroop739uU

 

Suarez-Orozco, Carola. “Formulating Identity in a Globalized World”. Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millenium. [2003].

Unknown Author.  “A New Concept of Global Identity”. facinghistory.org. Retrieved from: https://www.facinghistory.org/civic-dilemmas/new-concept-identity

 

 

 

Action Research Question

Toward a School Community:

Creating a Cohesive Community with Families and Students of Minority Backgrounds

 

Getting parents involved in a child’s education has long been recognized as an imperative for the success of a student. But what if those parents can’t speak English? What if they have had negative experiences with education, and thus have problems trusting the school environment in which they participate? Often, this lack of connection means that the students feel apathetic towards their education, which in turn lowers their ability to successfully complete their coursework. A teacher who can effectively create a community in the classroom and effectively connect parents with the school system will help ensure that their students are successful in their classroom.

 

My research proposal has two primary questions:

  1. How can a teacher connect with and enlist the help of the families of both voluntary and involuntary immigrants?
  2. How can a teacher create an inclusive classroom environment that supports and respects a student’s culture?

 

There are several reasons why I wish to research this topic. First and foremost, the areas of classroom management and parent communication were listed as primary areas in which I could improve during my last evaluation. I wish to find strategies I can implement in my classroom this year to help improve my relationships with families and their students. Second, my school is mostly made up of immigrant families, many of them whose perspective would match that of involuntary immigrants. I see it as an imperative that I research these questions so that I can better support my school’s very diverse population. And lastly, it was discovered during our last student survey that most of our students do not feel that their classmates are usually respectful to them. Many reported that their classmates were “sometimes” respectful and inclusive. I wish to see if we can find strategies that will help eliminate this problem on our campus. This research is therefore important not just for my classroom, but also for my school as a whole.

The Pros and Cons of International Education

The presence of international education in the global stage is growing, and with that growth comes increasing influence on the world and its thought. As students trained in international schools migrate from nation to nation, they bring with them changes to that nation’s culture and thought. But is this a good thing? And should it be promoted in education? This educator feels that while there are many benefits to international education, there are also several pitfalls that should be carefully examined before one implements these philosophies in one’s classroom.

In today’s global economy, it is easy to see why international education is so popular. International mindedness creates students who can thoughtfully examine their own culture and the cultures of others. International literacy creates students who can effectively engage with cultures around the world. Global competency creates students who use those skills to solve global issues. Indeed, this takes learning to a very deep level. Students must not only fully understand their topic, but have the knowledge and skills needed to take the material and apply it to a new situation, creating a solution where there once was none. This will, no doubt, cause deeper learning and understanding than a traditional environment, and will likely create individuals who can help correct some of the injustices in the world.

On the other hand, there are several issues with international education that might actually hinder that goal. First and foremost, many of the patterns found even in the IB setting come from western ideals in education. Westerners, for example, tend to focus on critically thinking about the skills they are learning. For many cultures, this is seen as ridiculous – merely learning to do the task is enough. (van Oord). This can create difficulties for applying international education and international mindedness in cultures that follow these modes of thought. While steps are being made to mitigate these problems, and IB in particular is trying to incorporate ideals from other cultures into their education practices, there will necessarily be changes that must be made to address the cultural differences in eastern nations. Although international education promotes itself as an international practice, it really is primarily western, and will have to shift depending on the environment in which it is implemented. (Drake).

Another issue lies in the pluralism associated with international education, and its contradiction with the goals of global competencies and solving world problems. Especially in the International Baccalaureate, one of the main emphases that international education makes is in helping students develop a pluralistic mindset towards other cultures. That is, that students and teachers alike are supposed to be “open minded”, which means that no particular culture is supposed to rise above others. All views are to be seen as equal, and all thought given equal perceptions of validity.

This is, in a way, inherently contradictory towards the stated goal of solving world problems. Often, the solution to those problems results in a change in the culture and way of living for a particular group of people. Logging in the rainforest, for example, would be considered an environmental issue that student should try to solve, but it necessitates a change in life for a certain group of people who are dependent on that industry. Philosophically, is difficult to maintain a stance of open-mindedness while seeking to implement changes of ideals in other cultures based upon one’s own ideals.

Indeed, both concepts are important. One must respect the fact that other people’s viewpoints are different from one’s own, and others deserve to be treated with care and respect. Part of that treatment involves respectfully interacting with the other culture. But one wonders whether it is possible to maintain that all cultures are inherently equal in their rightness when one tries to change the actions of another culture.

As an educator, my main problem with international education is that it confuses the purpose of what I’m doing. Would it be better in this case to focus on pluralistic thinking, or would it be better to address the inherent problems in this line of thought? If I am to truly help students to cultivate critical thinking skills, I cannot accept that all thought is inherently equal. There are consequences to every belief, and if one belief leads to blatantly negative consequences, students should have the ability to stand against that thought. That’s part of critical thinking – carrying a perspective all the way from its incubation to its perceived outcome, determining the value of it, and deciding whether to attempt that thought or not.

I do, however, deeply value the ideals of respecting other cultures, even if one disagrees with the beliefs of that people group. I believe that students should absolutely be taught about different cultures and their perspectives, how to interact with them, and how to solve problems with them. These are all imperative skills in today’s world. The pluralistic views, however, hinder problem solving because they dictate that we should accept thought that is flawed as equal to thought that is not. One can respect a person, and one can communicate respectfully with that person, while still disagreeing with that person’s flawed thought process.

The students we educate can shape the world if they’re given the freedom to do so. International education can be a tool to that end, but it must allow students the intellectual freedom to agree and disagree with those around them, and to critically analyze one’s own thought process in light of others. This is the international mindedness that I’d like to engage my own students with – the ability to critically examine one’s own thought to see if it’s flawed, and the ability to use one’s communication skills to help others do the same. Respect, then, means caring enough for the other person that we challenge thoughts that are going to have a negative impact on them, and help them grow in their understanding, while allowing them to do the same to our own thoughts and culture. As an educator, it is my hope that my students will develop that attitude, and seek to use the skills and habits gained in my class to solve problems by working respectfully with those around them. International education is indeed a way that this can be done, but with careful consideration of the philosophies that in some ways can undermine this process.

 

Sources:

Drake, Barry. International Education and IB Programmes: Worldwide expansion and potential cultural dissonance. Journal of Research in International Education. 2004.

Hayward, Mark. From International to Intercultural. Journal of Research in International Education.

Lodewijk van Oord. To Westernize the Nations? An Analysis of International Baccalaureate’s Philosophy of Education. Cambridge Journal of Education. 2007.

Arathi Sriprakash, Michael Singh, Qi Jing. A Comparative Study of International Mindedness in the IB Programmes in Australia, China, and India. 2014.

Veronica Mansilla, Anthony Jackson. Educating for Confidence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. Asia Society. 2011.

 

 

The Success of an International Student: Three Competing Perspectives

Every culture identifies characteristics that lead to success. In some cultures, success is identified with wisdom and knowledge; in others, success is identified with income and a large house; in others, it’s talent in the arts or in sports. Education is no different. Each system has its own qualities that it tries to instill in its students. In the international school system, there are three competing philosophies which drive a school’s view of a successful international student. Though there are a few similarities between the concepts of international mindedness, international literacy, and global competency, each is vastly different from the last in its mission and drive.

International mindedness is perhaps the oldest of the three concepts, as it was the driving force behind some of the original international schools. International mindedness emphasizes a student’s ability to examine critically their own culture in relation to the world around them. An internationally minded student is supposed to be able to make connections to their culture and others, examine their differences, articulate their ideas clearly, and use their knowledge to help people from other backgrounds solve their nation’s problems. It does not always necessitate that students engage with other cultures. Instead, international mindedness focuses on the intellectual aspects of critically examining each culture and communicating those ideas. Through this critical thinking practice, it is theorized, a student will be able to engage effectively. The critical thinking is the primary means by which a student engages with the other cultures, and respecting differences the primary tool of applying these practices. International mindedness can be used solely as a means of examining one’s own culture, as well – of creating change in one’s own nation by examining other cultures and the practices therein, and advocating for different practices in one’s own culture. (Sriprakash, Singh, Jing).

International literacy, on the other hand, necessitates engagement with other cultures. An internationally literate student is so fluent in another culture that s/he can function completely in that culture as if they were native to it. They understand and accept the subtleties of the culture’s body language and use that to effectively communicate with people from that culture. Understandably, then, a student will not be internationally literate if they have no means by which they practice these skills. While helping create change is a secondary goal of this practice, the primary goal is that each student is capable of adapting to new surroundings and living in different places around the world. (Hayward).

Global competency is sort of a combination of the two previous mindsets, but with a focus on problem solving. The globally competent student uses its knowledge of other cultures and practices to communicate their thoughts on issues of “global significance”. The international literacy of being able to function in other cultures, then, is paired with the international mindedness of critical thinking and problem solving. Global competency, however, does not have the goal of creating students who move to and adapt in other cultures, but merely students who use their knowledge in effective cross-cultural problem solving for global issues. Globally competent students will predict the difficulties other cultures will have with their ideas and will find ways to effectively communicate those perspectives to the other cultures. (Mansilla and Jackson).

To summarize, let’s look at a diagram comparing the three perspectives.

Comparing IM, IL, and GC - Page 1

 

Successful educational practices are defined differently around the world. International education has its own definitions of success that are different from the nationalistic perspectives of the nations they serve. Internationally minded students can critically think about their culture and the cultures around them. Internationally literate students can communicate effectively and live in a variety of different cultures as if those cultures were their own. Globally competent students can use international mindedness and international literacy to solve global issues by effectively thinking about and communicating about these problems. These all have a place in international education, but the practices to develop these skills are greatly different from each other. As globalization causes growth and shifting in educational thought in national schools, so too it causes growth and shifting in thought in international schools. Over time, it will be interesting to watch these thoughts change, and to see how it impacts beliefs surrounding success in the future.

Sources:

Hayward, Mark. From International to Intercultural. Journal of Research in International Education.

Arathi Sriprakash, Michael Singh, Qi Jing. A Comparative Study of International Mindedness in the IB Programmes in Australia, China, and India. 2014.

Veronica Mansilla, Anthony Jackson. Educating for Confidence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. Asia Society. 2011.

Action Research Proposal

M12 U4 A3 – Action Research Project Blog Post

Kendall Connolly

 

Action Research Project

There are several qualities that separate good teachers from the best teachers, and being a lifelong learner is one of those qualities. A teacher who learns with their students is one who will shape their educational practices to meet the needs of those students. A teacher who seeks to do that needs to understand how to study a situation and take appropriate, well-researched action. By following the steps of an action research project, a teacher can focus their research on a particular problem in the classroom and ensure that their solutions will be as effective as possible.

An action research project is a project in which a teacher identifies a problem and takes steps to scientifically solve that problem through study and research. First, the teacher will assess the problem by examining their classroom situation and identifying something they’d like to change. This can be anything from working with a particular student to working with parents. Next, the teacher will implement theoretical solutions to the problem. They will consider evidences that would support the success of their solution before they begin implementing it. So, for example, if they were focusing on a particular student’s number sense, they might choose to focus on a student’s math facts, and the evidence of their success might be an increase in that student’s success in math facts by a certain percentage point. Teachers will record their results and study them to identify the correlations between their actions and the students’ success or failure. Next, teachers will rethink their ideas and plan their next steps. Finally, the teachers will take action based upon the results of their study.

The Teach-Now program has certain requirements for the final action research project in their Master’s Degree programs. Since I am in the Globalization in Education track, I must choose a topic related to globalization or international education. My work must be original, and it must focus on a topic related to my school and its educational practices. In this way, I can learn how action research can be applied to my teaching practices and specific situation.

I teach in an American charter school that seeks to prepare culturally diverse low-income students for college. Since immigration greatly affects the mindset of my families and their success in school, I want to center my project around applying Ogbu’s theory of voluntary and involuntary immigrant groups. These mindsets greatly affect a student and their family’s willingness to trust a teacher and the school, and their willingness to be successful in education. By addressing these concerns, a teacher should be able to help these families change their mindset about education.

My plan is to work on implementing strategies to build trust between immigrant families and the school. We have an extremely high diversity rate, so it’s directly applicable to my situation, and I’ve seen how Ogbu’s theory connects to my students and their families.

My proposal would have two steps:

  1. Identify and implement strategies to promote trust between parent and teacher. (Sending post-cards before school starts, making positive phone calls home, etc.)
  2. Identify and implement strategies to promote community within the classroom. (Morning meetings, community circles, trust building exercises, and collaboration as means to teach students to respect diversity of thought and culture.)

My hope is to show that by purposefully engaging the group mentalities that shape a family’s expectations of the school system, a teacher can improve a child’s desire for success and their actual academic success.

Currently I think the biggest problems I will have is finding ways in which I can measure the success of these endeavors. Since I will be starting this project at the beginning of the school year, it will be difficult to measure academic success of the students. I will also struggle with identifying change in relationships with families and students, since this is a new class that I have not yet taught. I believe there will be plenty of research on the topic, and I work in a school that has worked on solving this problem for the last 15 years, so I have many experts at my disposal to seek help from.

Two of my biggest struggles this last school year was in parent communication and classroom management. My great hope is that this will shape my ability to serve these communities in a more effective manner.

References:

Guidelines and Rubric for Module 14 Final Project. Teach-Now Program. https://wordpress.com/post/kendallconnolly.wordpress.com/84

Rigsby, Leo. Action Research: How Is It Defined? George Mason University. PowerPoint. 2015. http://gse.gmu.edu/assets/media/tr/ARRigsbyppt.htm

Ogbu, John. Simons, Herbert. Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education. 2012.