January 13th: Narratives of a Contender

Narratives of a Contender

For our second week in ECS 300, we were tasked to read the article “Learning from Our Students” by Nel Noddings (2004). Certainly, there are points that I agreed and disagreed with Noddings—although it can be considered that I am more on the “agree” side than the latter. However, I would like to put those points on the side at the moment, and share some opinion about the general composition of the article.

First of all, I am glad that the article was actually easy to read. In fact, it’s too easy in a way that it almost felt like I had these kinds of conversation with my friends before. I figured out that the familiarity of the content was not just about having same peer discussion experience but also due to the lingering notion of curriculum as narratives from my ECS 210 class last semester. We had a guest speaker, Grant Urban, who talked about the importance of narrative stories of experiences. I had two favourite points from that class which I thought closely mirror Noddings’ claims at the beginning of the article—and would actually make a good thought when put together.

Urban

Noddings

“The best way to give someone a voice is to listen to them” “When we listen to them, we have what they are going through…
“We should not expect and demand our students to leave their baggage outside the door before they enter our classroom” and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching…” (2004, p.154).
The best way to give someone a voice is to listen to them. When we listen to them, we have what they are going through and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching. And this is the reason why we should not expect and demand our students to leave their baggage outside the door before they enter our classroom.

The unified notion created above is the beginning of my numerous points of agreements with this article. I agree that each student has to be accepted as a whole because that’s their uniqueness—their identity. With this in mind, we—as educators— have to always keep in mind that each learner’s uniqueness requires our flexibility to alter our way of teaching so that our lessons will reach all of the students in the class. In fact, this became part of the teaching philosophy that I currently have.

There are literally several points that I agreed with Noddings but I think that mentioning them here is just like re-typing the article; the only difference will be the possibility that my narratives will be added there to prove why I agreed with him. As a result, I will try to just focus on the part that discusses about The Contest for Highest GPA and comment to it by using my own narratives because this is also where I have strong opinions of disagreement.

“People don’t go to school to learn. They go to get good grades which brings them to college, which brings them the high-paying jobs, which brings them to happiness, so they think. But basically, grades is where it’s at” (quoted in Pope 2001, 4). Poor kids. If they were informed about the latest findings of social scientists, they would know that, beyond the poverty line, there is little correlation between more money and happiness (Lane 2000). We shouldn’t need social scientists to tell us that;”

First of all, I think that we need to be aware of possibilities of the other side of this story but let’s summarize his points first.

  1. Noddings claimed that students are feeling miserable because of the notion of importance of having the highest GPA. This may be true to many but—as I said earlier—the other side of the story was not presented. In other words, he only showed us some proof of miserable lives of students who aimed for the highest GPA but did not present any narratives of students who experienced the positive side of this contest.
  2. He was also aware that good grades allow students to be employed with high paying jobs which may bring happiness. However,  he claimed that there’s no specific correlation with money and happiness—which partially implies that students who thinks this way were too ignorant when the notion seemed to be a commonsense after all [that we don’t need social scientists to tell that to us].

Now I want to share my narrative as a comment against this.

I am an immigrant and I came from a third world country where the reality of what poverty looks like was near my visions. However, I’m not saying that the country where I came from was only filled with poverty; of course, there are evidences of extremes from the other point. I can say that I am lucky because I belong to a middle class family but if you travel few blocks away from our house, you will find some slum area.

I graduated from a big public elementary and high school, wherein I met friends who can’t afford to have a satisfying lunch or students who can’t even afford to buy school materials; but these became typical in a way that it became part of our commonsense. I grew up in a milieu where students’ competency was high. Since there are thousands of students in the campus, we were separated into 60 students per class section out of 22 sections from A to C (1A, 1B, 1C, etc.) according to our final grades. I have to maintain my grades in A+ (85 and above) so that I can stay in a class sections that are closest to 1 and A, because this is where the best lectures are taught. It is indeed unfair but the education system reasoning is not the same as the philosophy I have recently created—and that’s just how it works. I started school earlier but I maintained to be in top sections with honours until I graduated high school. I did not go to college because we immigrated few months after I graduated. Those who can afford to go to college immediately enrolls and try to keep their grades as high as they possibly can, because like Noddings said, they will be hired sooner if they have higher grades. This is important for a country with high unemployment rate: there are numerous people with their certificate of Bachelor’s Degree but still unemployed, not because they are too lazy to find jobs, but because there are literally not much job offered. Those who got employed will now have their money. Now let me show you how this money becomes happiness. If you have money, you can finally afford to help your parents who have been working really hard for the past years to afford your education and to give you enough (because in a middle class family, students don’t usually have to worry working so they focus on their studies). If you finally became stable, then you can finally ask your parents to stop working and return the favor to them. [Note that this is a cultural factor which may obviously be seen as highly different from our Canadian culture.] When you finally come to the state when you can see that your parents can just relax at home and need not to worry about financial expenses, then you’ll have that different level of happiness; and I think that this is what Noddings missed when students aim for the highest grades to have money and happiness. I want to argue that not all people who compete for the highest grade are naive, lost, and miserable.

To make sense of all these narratives and argument, I wanted to clarify that I know I’m not in the same country where I was born and raised—that the education system was not the same, there are numerous employment opportunities that you do not even have to get a degree to work at McDonald or any fast food, and the Canadian culture, to some extent, was different. However, the ideology here is that all the commonsense built on me as I grew up in that previous setting was carried over even when my family moved in Regina. I honestly still have the same goal set for my future: finish my studies with high grades, get a stable job and help my parents; not because they forced me to have that notion, but because I wanted to. I also do not want to claim that immigrants will all share the same mind settings as mine because I am aware that we are all unique. Nonetheless, my opinion claims that the cultural diversity within Canada may share the possibility that other kids or students might still hold their own commonsense of the definition of the importance of their education—or at least their parents. This only means that it is possible that the parents still hold that high expectation of grades of their children, which may then be an additional factor why students works really hard to have the best GPA.

In relation to the discussion above, I also want to add my narratives of how the actual work to race for the highest GPA really looks like. I have a cousin who is currently on her grade 12. She received an assignment for her Christian Ethics 30 class. The task was to answer the multiple questions from the handout by using a self-reflection response. One paragraph per question was required. She worked for this assignment for weeks and ended up having 14 pages of self-reflection response. While working on this assignment, she is also working on her other classes’ assignments, readings, as well as actually having a part-time job after school. Here’s more background, since she is my cousin, it is kind of obvious that she has the same ideology as mine; that we race for the highest GPA in class. In fact, she received the O’Neill proficiency award—the award given to the student who has the highest GPA in overall grade level. She submitted the assignment with confidence but received a lower mark than expected. She argues how can her opinions be wrong? After all, the question asked for her own opinion. Although I do not have the answer for that, I do have the empathy to her experience. Students like me who puts value to their GPA needs justification for the grade we received. It’s not because the student was suspecting their teacher just guessed the grades but because the student also wanted to know their weaknesses, where did they lack, or what their mistakes were so that they can improve. As a student, I will feel more comfortable if I can see that I get 3/5 in the grammar section of the rubric, then that’s where I need to pay attention next time. Having a higher mark next time will then be my base and proof that I improved. Nevertheless, there are other ways to prove the student that they did actually improved. This means that a student who is grade conscious will accept the pass/fail grade if proper justification about their work were provided as part of the assessment.

I know this blog is too long already but I want to share one last point—but this one will be briefer than the previous one. In some instance, I felt like Noddings also claimed that students who were grade conscious were miserable because they sacrifice all their social life to have high grades. However, this is not true. As mentioned above, I like to be academically competitive; I’m in top sections and have honours from kindergarten until I graduated high school in the Philippines. I have to admit that I felt uneasy and guilty whenever I have to ask my mom to sign my quarterly report card (we have 4 report cards, which we call quarters, before finals) that indicates I have 79 in Math. As a result, I try harder for the next grading period and finals which allowed me to never have line of 7s in my final grades. What does it prove? It proves that I’m really conscious with my grades and successfully kept them high. What does it not prove? From all those narratives of grade consciousness, I never mentioned how happy my social life was. I get the freedom to hang out with my friends every weekend by going to the mall or watching movies or fireworks until late night. I am surrounded by supportive peers who were also conscious about their grades. To clarify, this means that one does not have to sacrifice all their social life to get high grades. Unlike how Noddings defines it, I believe that any student can have high grades and have happy social life at the same time.

Going back to my current teaching philosophy, I mentioned that I want to reach all of my student’s learning of comfort. I want to help those who struggle but I won’t disregard those students who were more advanced than the rest of the class. I want my students to enjoy learning. I have to accept that GPA is not the only way to show progress but other people just have to know the other side of what motivates those who contends for the highest GPA before sharing the only negative aspects attached to it.

All these ideology of grades is also the reason why I am anxious about this class, ECS 300. This is my first Pass/Fail class and I am on the edgy side at the start of the class. However, I felt better that we’ll have the chance to discuss where we need to improve. Certainly, this class will push me to be comfortable walking outside my comfort zone but I’ll take the challenge. There is no formula for a perfect classroom; there will never be one single perfect teaching skill and classroom management just like the fact that there are no perfect students and teachers. Nonetheless, there is the fact that exploration and flexibility will help; I look forward to rest of this journey.

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