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Sunday, December 26, 2010

“If Class Divides, Let Education Unite Us”

The education system is a miniature version of our own society. Schools serve as places that promote elemental components of our society. In our world, competition is BIG. In school, students compete against each other for the best grades. In society, people with higher salaries have the best careers. The better the class one is in, the greater chances they have of attending top schools. Society has a government and law enforcement to ensure that its citizens do not get out of pocket. Depending on the area, there is more surveillance. In educational institutions, there are rules, administration, and teachers to keep students from deviation. Again, depending on the school, there are greater or lesser restrictions. Higher class families tend to obtain prestigious opportunities with a wider scope for knowledge. These are the people who are recognized as the mighty and talented few. Those in working class families exhibit more fear and are less inquisitive. They are not inclined to the beauty that is concerted cultivation. Therefore, education is a process of the promotion of society through enculturation to divide the haves and the have not’s.

Class and Fear
Although fear can be used as a tool to prevent deviance, can it also be used to sort people by class? In working class schools, children must abide by rules and procedures so closely, that to disobey would bring about unfavorable consequences. Students are also often robotic and are not accustomed to formulate opinions or to ask questions. These are components of Jean Anyon’s “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work”. In her case study she discovered that working class schools discouraged students when they spoke their mind. This makes them academically disadvantaged due to fear. Or as Krishnamurti points out, one is not encouraged to seek truth or answers because to do so would threaten what the system stands for in the name of safety. Students who attend affluent institutions are encouraged to inquire and to do tasks in multiple ways. They are free and independent thinkers. The rules in the school are not heavily enforced so they have a lot more power over the system and their education.

Concerted Cultivation (The opportune versus the submissive)
What does concerted cultivation mean? It is a social habitus or a social situation/place where you are comfortable with your surroundings. A good illustration of this term is best shown in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”.

One of the sections in the book talks about practical intelligence and of a study done by sociologist Annette Lareau. A girl named Kate and a boy named Alex were raised very differently. Kate’s mother was not involved in Kate’s interests so she signed up for choir and did things independently. The trouble is that she was not nurtured by her mother to develop her interests into lasting talents, rather she only took care of her.

Alex on the other hand was prodded to ask questions and not to be submissive. On a visit to the doctor’s office, his mother prompted him to think about questions he wanted to ask the doctor about his health. While there, Alex is in control of the situation and is actively engaged in this social habitus. What Lareau tells us, is that Kate is a lower class Caucasian and that Alex is an upper class African- American. The distinction here is quite clear. The better class you come from and the better nurtured you are, the more control you gain in the presence of authority.

In lower class schools, students do not have this luxury. They are submissive and assume a lower rank within their education. Therefore the word of the teacher is golden and you are deemed unintelligent. This is the core of the “Banking Concept of Education” by Paulo Freire. It is because students are not stimulated to engage in any form of practical intelligence.

The lack of nurturing homes are causing families to lose touch with one another. Children in working class homes are cared for ,yes, but slip far away from the traditional ways of their parents. A perfect example of this is Richard Rodriguez in “The Achievement of Desire” and his experience of being known as ‘the scholarship boy’ in his family. He was made fun of and became isolated from his family. They often overlooked his achievements and interests.

So, What Now?
What should education look like? Many people who have realized the flaws in the education system have analyzed and debated about this and have come up with reasonable ways to view possible solutions. One of the many include Dr. Yung Tae Kim. He is a renowned skateboarder and teacher. He is also known for the quote “School sucks.” and surfaced that skateboarding can be incorporated into education. If one keeps working at it, they can actually learn how to achieve true success. Schools have too much power and in turn is hurting students and education. Children become written off as failures because they cannot learn material in the given amount of time and are discouraged in trying again. So if the problem is disproportionate power, then lets target that!

If education systems are discriminatory and possess uneven power, what can be done to change that? Education systems must begin by being inclusive so that everyone has an equal chance to be educated fairly and effectively. To do that, their authority needs to be equalized. How can we do this? Education must be a collaborative effort of the education system, the institution, teachers, faculty, students, and parents with open-mindedness. Treating the system as a hierarchy only works to make others feel inferior. When that happens, individuals are discouraged from being included in the “unified body” and it then stops being collaborative.

Everyone should have a voice (opinions) without being looked down upon. This starts with the students. Students have [power] as much a part to play in the whole education system and process. It is vital that they work together to give themselves a voice that best represents their feelings and ideals. Overall, education IS social; it does not just happen, it is created by the people that contribute their part and that care about where the world is going.

West African Dance: Recreating a Fading Tradition

Nigeria: Background
Africa is the second largest continent in the world. It consists of Northern, Western, Middle, Eastern, and Southern regions. There are approximately fifty-two countries and within those countries are states. Within the states are cities and within them are a wide expanse of tribes and communities. For the most part, Africa is streaming with vibrant culture; so much that one may not even know where to begin. So Africa, in its entirety, is a very complex place. Our focus here is Nigeria, West Africa and specifically, dance.

Inhabitants of the Western world would not actually give a second (or even first) thought as to what West African dance truly is or what its meanings and origins are. There are people that are students learning how to dance African dance for fitness reasons. Some may even believe that it is not even dancing and that people who engage in it are merely jumping wildly without technique or rhythm. However, what they do not realize is that West African dance is not only a dance it is a tradition and an experience!

The core of Nigerian culture is dance. It is the epicenter of social inclusion, unity, and participation in their society. Dancing in Africa is more than entertainment it is a way of life. There are numerous types of dances with various meanings. Each one is unique and are representations or expressions of their beliefs, feelings, or circumstances. In Africa, each dance is very purposeful. Each one is done in groups (only men, only women, only young,only old or anyone). Some dances are religious and are done to praise the gods and others are war dances. Dances are done at ceremonies and funerals as well. In African dance, dancers communicate with one another and an audience with their facial expressions and with their body movement. Even without the use of words, the sheer fact is that they can express their emotion and feeling so well with movement. Dancers highly value aesthetics in their dancing so they tend to be graceful and intense.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago- Lou Conte Dance Studio
The day is November, 27, 2010 as I make my way to the Hubbard Street Dance Studio here in Chicago. What caught my attention from the beginning were the students jogging or speed-walking before it actually opened! It is easy to see how determined and committed the dancers are. What awaits me next, I did not expect.

I enter the studio and tell the receptionist why I was there. Without suspicion, I was allowed to make observations on a dance class. My access was limited, however, as I was only allowed to take my notes and watch from the window. The Hubbard Street Dance Studio offers a variety of classes of different levels and styles and payment is required in order to be taught. So, as I am trying to decide which class I was to observe I was becoming a bit confused as to what dances were actually taking place. I finally decided to go back to the first studio (“Studio C“).

It was a bit difficult to hear what instructions were being given. It felt like watching the
television with no sound! From the schedule on the wall to my left, I learned that it was an African dance class that ran from 10 A.M to 11:30 A.M. At some point, an assistant who was taking a break stepped out and asked if I wanted to join. From the short conversation I had with the woman, I learned that the dancers began by doing warm-ups for an hour!

Day one: Observations
There were three women in the class (African American and two Caucasian), two guests, one assistant, and one instructor. The dancers, the assistant, and the instructor were all barefoot, in loose fitting or comfortable clothing of any color. The dancers are of no particular size so the class is very open to persons of ALL types.

For the warm-ups, upbeat music was being played to energize the mood in the room. Their work outs consist of stretches, foot work, and some yoga moves. Everyone keeps up with the instructor and they use the big mirror as a guide, as well as each other. The warm-ups are important for blood flow and the muscles. Although the warm-up move needn’t be perfect, they should be nearly accurate. To ensure this, the instructor, Mr. Olumuyiwa Ojo would pause and help who ever needed assistance. He also does counts, which are very important for pacing. By now, everyone has worked up a considerable amount of sweat!

The Dance
A series of moves are being done in the dance. They sway their arms and make circular motions with them. They also do kicks, bending, stretching, and light stomp- like foot work. One of the most vital parts of the dances and pacing are the instruments. In this class, a talking drum, and cowbells are used for pacing the moves. Mixtures of beats were played that corresponded to certain steps. As with anyone who wishes to improve, there is a lot of repetition! Over the course of my observations that day, there were occasions where people would stop to see what was happening. Surely, to one who had absolutely no knowledge about this type of dance may think that all the dancers are doing is jumping up and down. I however had not yet found out the complexity.

Day Two: Observation and Insight
It has already been a week since I last went to the studio (given that this class only meets on Saturdays). I arrive and I assume my usual post, behind the window. To my surprise, the instructor notices me and invites me into the studio! He introduces me as a student conducting a project. One of the dancers asks me what my project is about and I gladly told her. In my mind, I was thrilled to actually be inside and being welcomed into the class; given that I did have a legitimate reason to be there.

The atmosphere inside the studio felt a lot more alive and vibrant. I was able to hear Ojo speak to his students and the music. I saw two new dancers (a Caucasian man and a Hispanic lady) as well as the same woman from the previous week (Caucasian). As Ojo begins the music, he explains that the next set of warm ups are meant to get the heart pumping faster. The dancers do stepping movements and they extend bent arms forward and sway them back. This is all done while moving towards the mirror, once they reach it they run lightly backwards. The moves are all done in time to Ojo’s counts. This warm- up was done for about 5-8 minutes or so. After this, the dancers did their stretches. They did downward dogs and rose up slowly and gracefully. In another stretch, they extended their left leg back and the right leg forward while their right arm is extended forward and the left one back (vice versa). Next, the dancers stood upright on their tip-toes with their arms pointing high into the air. Ojo told his students that they are like spirits.

Dancing is intricate
This dance is a recreation athletic dance. This dance originates in Nigeria, West Africa. It is done mostly by adolescent boys. The first move is called the alternate step (diagrams are included). The dancers first must face forward then use the right side of their body (arm and leg) to sway them towards the wall to their left and vice versa. This is done four times for each side. The assistant in the room plays the talking drum because the beats are the key to the steps being done and it lets the dancers know when to change their move. Ojo shows his students how to execute the step and steps back to play the talking drum while his assistant plays the cowbell. In the next step, the dancers face forward again, but this time their knees are bent (squatting position). They walk forward on bent knees while swinging their arms on each side (knee in the middle with arms on either side of it) and this is done two times for each side. The moves were very difficult to track because they were detailed and of course, intricate! To end the move they kick their left leg in the air and must land on the left foot. For the next step, the right arm is extended back, the left is extended forward the legs are stretched opposite of the arms. This is all done while facing the right wall and then left like the alternate step. The trickiest parts to track were the foot movements and each stepping move. This is because there is a specific way to step and what foot to land on.

The interview
Being a dancer, to Ojo, means having a passion for music and the art of movement. He said that in dance, the dancer’s instrument is their body. Although his answer was not intellectual, it did not need to be. His outlook on what dance is, is being able to feel the energy and to be free the same as traditional attitudes are. In his classes, he never tells his students that they need to be perfect (since it is not professional dance) so long as they can let the energy captivate them and express themselves.

Ojo is from Nigeria, West Africa and is familiar with dance in that region. When he lived in Nigeria, he noticed that the youth there wanted to be American and were very influenced by pop culture and icons such as Michael Jackson. The main reason youth in Nigeria long to be American is because the American media is so abundant and many of them do not think that African dancing is very interesting or important. He believed that tradition was fading so he decided to start teaching West African dance to bring it back to life and to raise awareness about the tradition. Since this form of dance is much underrepresented in America, it is seen as different or unusual.
Although Ojo wants to preserve traditional West African dance, he also has to put aside some of his opinions and beliefs within the class because the students pay to learn how to dance, not to learn what the meaning behind it is. He told me that, for the most part, students he has had were in the class to keep in shape and to be active. He did mention that sometimes students did ask why they were dancing a specific dance or for the meaning of it.
What was striking is that as I watched the dancers, the young Hispanic lady would stop when she would get lost and be able to keep up with the moves. She can pick up the movements despite the steps being elaborate. Since dancers cannot always talk verbally, naturally, the people around them are communicating through their movements. The dancers are also well aware of the correlation between changes in drum beats and dance steps. Drum rhythms, again, are vital elements of movement because they indicate change in steps in traditional dances. In traditional dance, being able to do this shows acuity! While Ojo cannot force his ideas or cultural meanings to his students directly, he can still instill these elements into the class without vocalizing it! These students are unknowingly engaging in a culture they know nothing of by using these techniques. The remarkableness of them choosing this class is, that without them even asking questions or performing in a traditional way, they are still in the midst of something so different. They in a sense are recreating this culture; a rebirth of a fading tradition!


Nigeria - Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Retrieved from:

Dance and Music
Retrieved from:

Idamoyibo, Atinuke A.,2003,“Dynamics of African Dance” in Humanities Review Journal Vol. 3.1, 67-73

Olumuyiwa Ojo- West African Dance Teacher at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Learning To Fear: Emotionally and Sociologically Embedded

Fear comes about in various forms. Aspects in our lives that are unfamiliar and traumatic can conjure such fear and enable it to become emotionally and sociologically embedded into our day to day actions, perceptions, and attitudes. What happens when our ‘known world’ collides with a world that is seemingly unrelated to our own? What exists in our society to condition or perpetuate a discomfort from that contact with the unknown? What I want to consider, are the features of American society that have developed a fear of the Islamic faith.
The Event
On the 11th day of September 2001, The World Trade Center in New York City, was destroyed along with masses of people who were in and around the area by terrorists who hijacked two commercial airline jets. In Arlington, Virginia, the Pentagon was also attacked by terrorists associated with the al-Qaeda group. A fourth airliner crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In all, there were 3,000 victims and 19 hijackers who died and 6,000 casualties. September 11th is a very heart-wrenching date for the Americans affected and many others from different countries. With masses of fatalities, people began to unite closer and became very vigilant thereafter. This also marked a distrust in the Islamic and Muslim community all together. Looks of unmistakable unease etched the faces of countless people to those who are un-American -like. Since the event, various precautions were put into place to insure that it would not occur a second time. At the mere mention of the word “terrorist” images flash of what should be warned against.

In the aftermath of September 11th, George W. Bush implemented The USA PATRIOT Act. This Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001 mainly for the surveillance of potentially threatening conversations through different modes of communication as well as varying records. Immigrants who were suspected of terrorist affiliations were deported as a result as well. The Act had supporters and people who opposed it because of its unconstitutionality. The Act was set to sunset by the end of 2005. George W. Bush’s approval ratings increased by 90% in this year.

Initially, Americans and Muslim- Americans were helping one another and sharing each others lament. In light of September 11th, Muslim organizations in the United States made many collaborative efforts to aid those who had been affected. Organizations included: the American Muslim Alliance, Islamic Society of North America, American Muslim Council and others. Many donations and food, shelter, and medical assistance were made available to those in need. Much after the September 11th attacks, incidents of violence and harassment took place. When searching for jobs, employers thought twice about the applicant because of their name. Great resentment grew in the US. Persons who resembled Middle Eastern, Islamic, or Muslim affiliation were attacked physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sikhs, mainly from India, were mistaken for Muslims because of the turbans they wore. Mosques, temples, and other religious buildings were attacked. Americans acted against these people on behalf of the perceptions that were developed upon viewing images of suicide bombers. The images provided a basis on which to associate one who may seem to be a terrorist or a conditioned response. President Bush often referred to people of the like to be enemies and to be fought against. Thus, upon the sight of one who matches the prototype of the individual clearly offsets fear, violent and aggressively negligent behavior. Following 9/11 America went into war with Afghanistan. Patriotism and vengeful attitudes followed people who were a part of the armed forces. Many went to fight because of revenge.
Another action that raised weariness in Americans was the increase in airport security. Airports were reminders of the hijackers therefore producing the conditioned response when someone who seems suspicious is in their presence. All persons were subjected to scrutinized searches of luggage and personal items; all for safety reasons. Those who looked like a threat, were searched twice. Through this safety measure, fear is reinforced and associated again with the event. Surveys show that 81% of travelers find flying stressful. According to Brown University, air travel decreased by over 30%. Both examples of data are post 9/11.

When plans of the construction of an Islamic center and a mosque near “ground zero” were made public, the matter received much criticism. The topic about ’America being a free country’ became a highlight in the debate. Also, renewed fears about 9/11 arose. Anti-Muslim vandalism has been appearing more frequently on the subway stations in New York City. There have also been confrontations between Muslim-American youths and non-Muslim “friends” demanding to know why a mosque was being built on ground zero. The main subject this heightens is Islamophobia. Movements that support Islam raise the disapproval of them within American culture and society. Many parts of the country face the same opposition for the expansion of mosques in fear that building more, will make America vulnerable.
Modes of Communication
Vast amounts of people show their dislike for Islam through different methods. Among these methods are: online forums, news articles regarding President Obama, newspapers (independent/political cartoons), and other forms of social media with the same beliefs. People often make comments that show their disagreement or repugnance with Islam and the Middle East. In a land where free speech is the “norm”, people who display their hatred for the Middle East do not wish to be challenged. The majority of Americans see Islam as dangerous, threatening, and wrong. They express this very clearly on web forums and discussion boards online. Many usually say that they do not trust or like Islam, Muslims, or Obama. Amongst more “popular” forms of characterizing Islam and the Middle East include animated series like: American Dad, the Simpsons, or Family Guy. These shows contain episodes that relate to the same prototypes Americans have established for Muslims. These shows reestablish the perceptions that Americans “know” too well. Women having limited rights, turbans, terrorism and other such stereotypes.

So what happens if Americans do not express why they hate or fear Islam and Muslims? When will people discuss Islam and what it means? When will people see Islam politics and the Islamic faith as two separate issues? How will this fear fade within our society and culture? Can we learn to include Muslims and Islam into our culture as easily as it is feared? For now, much opposition is accepted or not challenged.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transculturation and the Power of the Writer!

Pratt has done a fantastic job in shedding a new light for me through her work "Arts of the Contact Zone"! However, through reading it, I come to find it difficult,in a positive way, to define what culture means.All my life in school and during discussions on culture you hear the same story.Cultures are what make people unique,they serve as a basis in which people share things in common, they promote diversity and shape our values,beliefs and our knowledge.

I personally am not sure that cultures are limited to your nationality or your parent's nationality because not everyone is raised into their "natural culture",if you will. I say this primarily because I am not a product of deeply rooted Hispanic culture because I do not know about that heritage since I have not been taught about it; I myself born in Illinois.I just go with the flow.Can that be culture; just being a part of something and following the rules and adhering to some kind or routine? Is there such a thing as losing culture? Is there such a thing as modifying it? Can one just develop a less complex way to carry on certain traditions? How does such a thing happen? Perhaps ancient practices are not emphasized as much because of changing times or the generation gaps in families have a role in diminishing "culture"? Maybe members in the family have grown out of the "traditional way" because of the negativity connected to it or disinterest (may it seem obligatory?).

I believe culture and its discourse is very different than the common dictionary definition. Upon reading Arts of the Contact Zone, Pratt makes a very bold argument about HOW cultures attempt to engage in 'contact zones'. She uses the example of Pietschmann finding a letter addressed to King Phillip III of Spain written by Poma who is Andean.Two people from two different cultures = (non established in this case) contact zone.Pietschmann prepares a paper in which he tries to explain his findings and realizes that people are confused. When people finally find a way of reading this letter, the profoundness of it became so obvious. That is the beauty of the whole story! Having this literacy made it possible to appreciate the letter.

The more intriguing part about this is the letter itself! On page 505, Pratt describes the lined drawings as European ( a form of discourse), but the drawings helped Poma express his own culture. Another instance where this is done? Persepolis! Satrapi uses a comic styled format that is usually seen as "Western" to explain her values and her culture to us since we are not a part of her culture. This IS a contact zone!! Another way to describe what is being done here is: Transculturation. Transculturation in simpler terms is a minor culture taking some ideas from particular parts of a dominant culture to push forward values,beliefs,and knowledge of their own. Its helps a contact zone arise.This is the chance where people get to exchange ideas about culture.Even so, WHY contact zones? Transculturation is similar to the discussion we had in class about the discourse communities project. Who has more power? As the writer, we have more power because we choose how much what we are told will influence what we write.In this case, Poma was the one in power.

In the end,in my opinion, there still does not seem to be a proper definition for culture.