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Letter to the Editor: Why Teach for America

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

Shawn Sheehan is a career teacher from Oklahoma who cares about her students, but simply can no longer put her heart and soul into teaching without a living wage. Her dilemma is one felt and lived by many teachers in Oklahoma, the state where I grew up. Since high school, I had been aware of the plight of public education in my home state. Currently, Oklahoma leads the nation in funding cuts to public education, forcing administrators and teachers to find other jobs. Having failed our last public referendum in November, my state ranks 49th in the nation for teacher pay. All of these factors affect the quality of education given to students. When I started teaching last August, there were 1,200 unfillable teaching positions across the state. Now, with budget shortfalls cutting into teacher pay and education resources, I fear that the gap between the number of teachers willing to continue to teach and the demand for qualified educators will only widen.

The current crisis in education in Oklahoma is why I want to encourage Swatties to re-evaluate the role of Teach for America (TFA) in schools and communities. I understand TFA can promote a neoliberal agenda that can be detrimental to social justice. But in a place where the organization provides much-needed educational resources and research through collaborating with schools and districts, TFA is one solution, albeit an imperfect one,  toward the educational equity of underserved school districts. During a time of severe teacher shortage when Title One schools face sequestration, the choice to use TFA gives community leaders a chance to provide their communities with the opportunity of education, far from the ideal educational equity it may be.

What is causing such problems in schools in Oklahoma you may ask? First, I would consider the effect of legislation from the last decade, such as No Child Left Behind that used standardized tests from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to hold teachers and schools accountable through legal and fiscal ramifications for poor performance. Teachers are responsible for making their students pass standardized tests, or risk losing federal funding for their school. Administrators and schools also jump on this bandwagon by purchasing test-prep materials and technology that orients students toward testing strategies and learning. For underserved schools, poor test grades strip schools of even the most basic resources to support teachings. Such is my case, as I only got two class sets of textbooks to begin teaching three subjects. And the cumulative effect? My students’ test-taking behavior is flawless, but the same cannot be said about their test-taking abilities. It is regretful that such well-intentioned legislation can generate results that could not be further from its intent.

Second, the day-to-day experience of working with kids who may not have had the opportunity or environment to develop academic habits presents an ever-recurring mental and emotional obstacle. When I experienced teaching at my school first-hand, I started to understand the many challenges of teaching at an underserved school in 2017. I quickly learned that students can, and do, refuse to do work, listen to instructions, or partake in academic instruction. Disciplinary action often left me drained and deprived of any control of my class as other students watched on in amusement. The entire experience of the daily grind is overwhelming socially and emotionally, and colleagues tell me a good day in my placement school is a bad day anywhere else—so just imagine what a bad day was like. The tragedy of the situation is that students refuse what it is that you know they need the most to be successful members of society, begging me to ask whom social justice is for; it is dismal that I have recently developed a sense for picking out students who have “mastered the art of abusing the system” to shirk ever further from leaning,

These are just a handful of challenges teachers and administrators face day after day, week after week, and year after year. With such high academic expectations, little support, and classrooms of students who act apathetic toward academics, who would want to work in such an environment? Teachers are ready to leave the profession, and I have had many conversations with veteran colleagues who want to leave the profession because of all the issues with teaching, discipline, funding, and resources. Due to these challenges, proficient teachers I know have stopped caring about teaching: they are too burned-out from being unsupported, underpaid, and putting up with the daily “disrespect.” It can be a demoralizing experience to work through a year with classes of students whose actions and behavior indicate their apathy towards academics, and with broken tools to discipline students in the hope they adopt a more academics-prone behavior, and for many older teachers, with paychecks that cannot pay their bills. This is my conclusion on why teachers leave: they cannot financially, mentally, and emotionally afford to teach anymore.

It is no coincidence teachers who leave will adversely affect the educational opportunities of students, but what can administrators and school districts do in the wake of dwindling funding? Therein lies one role for Teach for America. When the challenge simply is trying to find teachers who want to teach, TFA provides a solution to a long-term substitute. While I understand the drawbacks of my two-year commitment, having a career science teacher for my students is not currently a reality for the community or students whom I teach. Perhaps my contributions may not be the closest option to educational equity and social justice, but the alternative is not having someone to teach my students. When comparing the choice between not having a teacher and having someone who wants to do his or her best to teach students, like myself, considering TFA as an option becomes paramount.

Having gone through the controversy of joining Teach for America from Swarthmore, I understand full and well the implications of being a teacher from the organization. I have heard and deliberated the arguments about TFA, but still decided to become a TFA corp member because I do not believe sacrificing the education of those today will bring about a better educational revolution tomorrow. Yes, I have heard the claim that TFA actually hurts underserved communities and that TFA co-opts community and resources for neoliberal school reform. Yes, these are all legitimate arguments, but they are only speculation without a concrete study of the role of TFA in each school and community. When my TFA friend’s first graders cannot tell her why they are important, perhaps my role, and hers as well, may be as simple as showing the students that some strangers really care about them enough to devote two years of their time trying to teach them. Just perhaps, I might suggest that these simple intentions are social justice too.
The more I teach, the more I believe teaching is becoming an unsustainable profession. Too often teachers are blamed for the faults of our schools and failing education system. I love my students, and I want to be their teacher and try to teach them something every day at school. Yet, the extra duties, responsibilities, and accountability of teaching strongly discourage me from pursuing it as a career. Of 15 teachers at my school, I will not see six of them next year, and three of which have already left before the end of the year. Yes, I could have selected a better program to partake in the education of students, but my school, like many others out there, do not have the privilege of receiving the assistance from such programs. This is where my and TFA’s reformed, broader definition of social justice begins to take form.

Machuca-Galvez must stay: students hope to ensure return of professor

in Campus Journal by

Karen Avila ’20 enrolled in Professor Milton Machuca-Galvez’ “Drugs, Gangs, and US Imperialism” class during her first semester of college. After a few months of knowing Avila, Machuca-Galvez nominated himself to be her mentor for the Rubin Scholars Program.

“I had a lot of people tell me about it but I never really had someone push themselves to get myself to apply to that, and make sure that I could take the classes,” Avila said.

As a Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies, Machuca-Galvez is the Head Coordinator of the Latino Studies Department.

“A lot of people say, you know, he is the Latino Studies Department. He makes sure that you know he covers his classes, he makes time for his office hours for people to visit him, I have so many friends who are really close to him and go to his office hours, he coordinates the budgeting for the department, so whenever like ENLACE [the Latinx student group on campus], needs money for an event, we know the Latino studies department … will help us.”

Unfortunately, as of right now, Machuca-Galvez’ contract is not being renewed for the upcoming year.

“He’s just like … he is the department and losing him it’s like losing the whole department. I don’t know, it’s frustrating,” Avila said.

Along with his central role in the department in general, Avila emphasized the important mentorship relationships Machuca-Galvez has crafted with students.

“My RA, she’s really close to him, and she’s had Thanksgiving at his house. You know, like just having that connection, it’s just so nice. And me not being able to know him, as close as people who I know now, upperclassmen — like juniors know him is really sad because I would want him to be my mentor. I recently had to switch my mentor and ask [someone else] to be my mentor, because, like, [Machuca-Galvez] doesn’t show up on the mentors list for Rubin Scholars. And that’s horrible,” Avila said.

These relationships expand far beyond office hours and holiday home visits.

“He definitely pushes you. He asks you ‘how are you,’ ‘how are you doing.’ That’s like his check-up on you. ‘What do you need,’ ‘what do you have to do,’ and ‘what are you going to do to get that.’ And he just like walks you through, talks it out with you, and you process it in your head, but then he makes you comfortable enough to say it out loud and ‘plan yourself’ out loud. I think that’s a really important role, [that he is] listening, providing kind of like a parental figure to a lot of us,” Avila said.

In addition to emotional and organizational support, Machuca-Galvez finds ways to provide students with inroads to research.

“With his own money, he would buy like pupusas, and he’d buy us drinks, in exchange for us helping him transcribe … his documents for his research projects, so also giving us like a little way in into his research, and involving us,” Avila said “Not just us being involved in his classroom, but way more than that.”

In response to reality of potentially losing Machuca-Galvez, Avila, in collaboration with ENLACE, has written a petition rallying for his contract to be renewed. While Machuca-Galvez is not a part of this process, many of his students are.

“We just finished drafting the letter, we’re in the works of that. A lot of people have just like been keeping it within us, just because he doesn’t want any part of it … So the main point [of the petition is that] as the Head of the Department of Latino Studies, he is the department, he offers a lot of support for his students, he is a shoulder to cry on, he is here to listen — he’s just there for his students,” Avila said.

Why Mathematical Reasoning Should Be a Part of Civic Education

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We now live in a world where reason and truth are under siege on a daily basis. The Economist declares that we have entered an era of “post-truth politics.” Falsehoods are called “alternative facts.” Science is subject to ideological manipulation. On both sides of the aisle, moral relativism and partisan politics have largely replaced commitment to constitutional principles and our inalienable rights. For many conservatives, religious freedom is important only if the religion is Christianity. For many liberals, the core liberal tenet of free speech is now somehow contingent on the identity of the speaker. While people everywhere used to struggle for our indivisible and inalienable human rights, we now like to manipulate these principles to fit our own narratives. I think part of the problem is lack of appreciation; learning about history or politics in oppressive regimes can help. The other part of the problem is inability or unwillingness to reason on both sides. Mathematical reasoning, I argue, provides an antidote to this culture of relative truth.

First, some clarifications on terminology. By relativism, I mean the belief that moral truths are relative to individual perspective, and that universal moral truths do not exist. By mathematical reasoning, I mean the ability to use proofs and rigorous arguments to generate indisputable mathematical knowledge. Mathematical reasoning is different from numeracy in that the latter denotes only the ability to work with numbers and calculate them.

The culture of truth and certainty that is generated by the method of proof in the mathematical world is sorely needed in the political and social sphere. In mathematics, once someone has proven that there are infinitely many prime numbers, no distortion or reframing or political maneuver or “alternative facts” can change that. This does not mean that skepticism has no place in mathematics, or, as political scientist Andrew Hacker apparently believes, that mathematics thrives under oppressive regimes. Basic assumptions in mathematics are often revised in light of evidence that shows a system can generate paradoxical results. For example, our intuitive understanding of sets as collections of objects was discarded after the discovery of the famous Russell’s paradox: the set of all sets that are not members of themselves can neither contain nor not contain itself. All mathematics asks is this: believe what you have a strong argument for, unless reason shows otherwise, in which case you must not believe.

Mathematics also teaches important skills that are transferable to political and social debates. First, mathematics teaches attention to detail. For example, try solving for x: ax = b. If your answer is x = b/a, then you miss the case in which a = b = 0 (which would mean x can be anything), or the case in which a = 0 but b is not 0 (which would mean there is no value x can be for the equation to hold.) Getting into the habit of considering all the “borderline cases” and scenarios can be useful in discussions about technical issues, such as affirmative action or voter ID law. Second, mathematics teaches basic strategies of argumentation. For example, in calculus, to show the claim that continuous functions must be differentiable somewhere is false, mathematicians created a counterexample called the “Weierstrass function.” In essence, it means that it is conceptually possible for a car to move without speed at any moment. One can also use “proof by counterexample” to show that freedom of speech is not absolute. For example, one cannot falsely shout fire in a movie theater. Third, mathematics teaches how to identify assumptions and gaps in arguments. One famous example in mathematics was the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem: for any integer n greater than 2, there are no three positive integers x, y, and z such that xn + yn = zn. It took mathematicians 358 years to prove this result, but the first version of the proof contained a fatal error that was discovered during peer review. Eventually, the mathematician Andrew Wiles fixed his proof after a year of hard work, just before he was about to give up. The obsession with the rigor of argumentation in mathematics trains students of mathematics to develop a critical eye for arguments in general, as I have personally experienced. Fourth, mathematics teaches problem solving skills that can be particularly useful in policy-making and nonprofit work. The best proofs in mathematics are those that can be written in relatively few lines but are hard to discover. The best policy ideas are usually the same: easy to state, but hard to come by. Finally, mathematics teaches how to write well. Mathematical arguments are often more technical than arguments in other disciplines. Clarity of writing, therefore, becomes key in the discipline. Évariste Galois, one of the most important mathematicians in the 20th century, developed group theory in a paper that was considered “incomprehensible” by some mathematicians. It was only after he rewrote his mathematical manuscripts and published them the day before he died in a duel that his mathematical contributions became well-known.

Learning mathematical reasoning need not be difficult or stressful. Mathematical proofs should not be included in standardized tests such as SAT. Rather, exposure to mathematical reasoning can take the form of exposition and exploration. Teachers can show the most beautiful and famous proofs in different areas of mathematics, and guide students through each step of the proofs. Teachers can also present students with propositions that they can either prove or disprove. Finally, teachers can include tales from history of mathematics to illustrate how mathematical results can have profound philosophical implications. My favorite example is how Kurt Gödel’s and Alan Turing’s results in mathematical logic have shed light on the nature of human mind. Since this article is partly my opinion on educational reform and partly an advertisement for mathematics, I include here one of my favorite proofs in mathematics. If you like this argument or this way of thinking, you should definitely consider taking one of the mathematics classes offered at Swarthmore, such as Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.

Prove that there are infinitely many prime numbers.

Proof: Assume there are only finitely many prime numbers. Let p1, p2, p3, … , pn be all the prime numbers, arranged from the smallest to the largest. Let p = p1×p2×p3×…×pn + 1 (take the product of all the prime numbers and add 1).  Then p is larger than any of the prime numbers, since it is at least larger than or equal to p1 + 1, p2 + 1, … , pn + 1. Therefore, p is not one of the prime numbers, since our list contains all of them. p is thus a composite number, and it must be divisible by one of the prime numbers. However, the remainder of p divided by any of the prime numbers is 1, meaning that p is not divisible by any of the prime numbers. We have a contradiction. The only possibility, then, is that our assumption at the beginning was wrong. Therefore, there are infinitely many prime numbers. Q.E.D.

 

Students haunted by their future selves for taking five credits

in Columns/Opinions/Satire by

With few days left of the Add/Drop period, students have reported odd hallucinations to the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), claiming to see an enraged, worn-out identical to themselves in appearance and claiming to be from the future, in apparent anger and distress. Coincidentally, the victims of these hallucinations are all currently registered to take five or more classes, and do not plan to drop any courses before Add/Drop ends.

“I was happily moving from my Discrete Math class to my Constitutional Law class when I felt everything coming to a halt for no reason,” said Eckstrah Würcawholik ’20. “Time suddenly stopped and everything around me blacked out, and then I saw what seemed like a wretched version of myself that I usually only see in the mirror during exam week. The being then started to yell at me for making the choices I made in that desperate angry voice I use whenever I complain about workload. I was honestly very confused because I know I am perfectly sane right now and I have never hallucinated before.”

In addition to Discrete Math and Constitutional Law, Würcawholik was enrolled in a seminar on Water Policies in China, First Year Seminar on the Cold War, and Introduction to Computer Systems at the time of publication.

Felicia Hardkor ’ 19, a student who is currently enrolled in five courses and is shadowing three more, reported to The Phoenix that she has had a particularly haunting experience with the hallucination. According to Hardkor, a person with thick dark circles and a face that appeared identical to Hardkor’s, violently woke her up from her sleep and started pouring out an angry tirade for picking classes the way she did during the Add/Drop period.

“I was quite frightened to be honest,” Hardkor said. “But I wasn’t frightened because I was hallucinating. What really shook me was that the thing I saw in my hallucination was exactly how I looked at 3 a.m. in McCabe Library last December during exam week. I’m not planning on dropping any courses though—I think I can handle everything.”

Some hallucinations that were reported to CAPS even took a violent turn. Nigel Schtobvorn ’18 reported that he was punched in the stomach and slapped across the face by the creature in his hallucination. Schtobvorn, who, at the time of writing, was slated to take a total of 5.5 credits, was immediately taken to Worth Health Center to recover from his injuries.

“I don’t remember the incident too well because it all happened in a blur, but I know that I was punched and slapped really hard by what seemed like a clone of myself,” Schtobvorn said. “The creature was also yelling at me, telling me that it came from the future, and that I was currently looking at myself during exam week at the end of this spring semester. The creature looked like it hadn’t eat or slept for three days. I’m honestly very confused at what just happened to my life, but I don’t plan on dropping any of my classes just because of a stupid hallucination.”

Despite such occurrences, some people are glad that these things are happening to students who are taking five or more credits. Mitchell Toljya ’19, who is a Student Academic Mentor (SAM), was glad to see that these hallucinations are happening to warn those students of the semester ahead.

“These are all students who are not listening to the advice I give on not taking five credits in a semester,” Toljya said. “I have no idea how these hallucinations are happening in the first place, but I’m just going to think that the things these students are seeing are actually versions of themselves in May during exam week, time traveling back to this Add/Drop week to give their January-selves hell for taking five or more credits in the first place.”

Do athletes get the same education as non-athletes?

in Columns/Sports by

This past weekend, I led prospective student-athletes and their parents on campus tours as part of the Future Garnet Baseball camp. One of the most common questions from both the parents and the prospects was “Do you think the athletes at Swarthmore receive the same education as the non-athletes here?” The frequency of this question wasn’t abnormal to just  me; I’ve asked other tour guides, and they’ve confirmed they’ve gotten that question a lot as well. In fact, it was the first question asked at an incoming student-athlete information session during orientation. Prospective student-athletes simply want to know how their education will compare to their non-athlete peers.

     The short answer is yes; our student-athletes receive a comparable education to our non-athletes. The long answer is a little more complicated, however.

     At Swarthmore, there is no question that academics are our first priority. We are not a sports-crazy school where all the student body seems to care about is football or basketball. When you Google “Swarthmore,” you get results about our academic prestige, whereas when you Google “Alabama,” it suggests “Crimson Tide Football.” When you take a look at these SEC and ACC powerhouses that are most notable for their athletics programs, you will notice that when you check their rosters, most football players will tend to have similar majors. At Georgia Tech, which is otherwise an academically excellent school, 16 of the 22 football starters are majoring in Management, according to a study done by the Wall Street Journal. School officials state that this isn’t because the Management major is “easier,” but it’s hard to believe that over 70 percent of their best players are in the same major by coincidence. This isn’t abnormal across similar schools. One-third of Clemson football players are Parks, Recreation, and Tourism majors. A similar amount of LSU football players are Sports Administration majors. You just need to look at the scandal that unfolded at UNC to see why this is a problem. For almost 18 years, a disproportionate amount of football and basketball players were enrolled in the Afro-American studies major, which consisted of “paper” courses where classes never met and all grades were based on essays written outside of class. According to Rashad McCants, a member of the 2005 national champion team at UNC, these athletes were conveniently provided with tutors who then wrote all of the papers for the athletes. Former UNC tutor Mary Willingham, who was the whistleblower that uncovered the scandal to the public, has said that the classes were a model for athletes to remain eligible with the NCAA, and at least four key members of the 2005 team heavily relied on these courses.

     We don’t have “Athlete” majors here at Swarthmore. Our athletes are spread amongst many departments, and many pursue double majors. Odds are there’s an athlete in every one of your classes, since one in five Swarthmore students are varsity athletes.

     In-season first-year athletes sometimes undergo a shock when they have to deal with balancing academics and athletics for the first time. It can be extremely different from what they were used to in high school. Upon being asked a few questions about her experience so far this season, Lelosa Aimufua ’20, a first-year on the Volleyball team, responded with some mixed feelings.

     “I don’t think any of my professors treat me differently, but I do feel the quality of my education is sometimes compromised due to my athletic commitment. It sometimes feels like I can’t be fully immersed in my academics just because there’s not enough hours in the day. I have to balance my academics with athletics, so I can’t completely immerse myself in either.”

     Aimufua continued, “Having the upperclassmen as a resource for help and having people to work on assignments with really helps you with the balancing.” She also said that her experience on the Volleyball team has been positive overall. Her responses to my question confirmed the idea that Swarthmore student-athletes think the biggest issue for them academically is a time constraint, but overall, athletes can have a rewarding academic experience as a student here.

     Older student-athletes usually have figured out the balancing act between athletics and academics.

     “I think that the biggest impact that athletics has had on my academics has been the pure aspect of how much time I can allocate to my academics,” said Ashley Hwang ’18, a junior swimmer. She is both a honors student and holds three school records, so she definitely has been successful in both parts of her Swarthmore experience.

     “Academics rank significantly higher than athletics for me; however, I have had to learn how to adapt to an unusual schedule that would be unconventional for most students. However, most of my professors have been flexible with my athletic schedule, and have worked with me to create fair deadlines and exam days,” said Ashley.

     “Time-wise, it can suck. There are some weeks where the only social contact I have is with teammates due to the amount of work I have and my practice schedule,” said Ashley about her experience balancing her honors work with her athletic commitments. Ashley seemed to show a more extreme version of what Lelosa told me earlier; Swarthmore student-athletes are busy due to their athletic commitments, but it doesn’t compromise the rigors of their education.

     Visiting Professor of Educational Studies Roseann Liu was asked a few questions about having athletes in her classrooms. She told me it was a little difficult to answer questions about this subject because it is often hard to know for sure who the athletes are in the classroom.

     “The one issue that I could see is that athletic schedules may make it more difficult to create out-of-class learning activities, such as visiting lectures or documentaries. However, I don’t think this is limited to athletes. I think most Swatties have packed schedules,” said Professor Liu. Her statements echoed what students have said, and I think many parents of prospective student-athletes would be happy to hear them.

     A big concern for student-athletes is the time crunch they sometimes face on assignments. However, as Ashley said, “I do not think this affects our major selection, and I do not feel we are handed anything here as student-athletes. We work just as hard for our grades as our non-athlete peers.” Sure, it may be difficult to balance the workload, but these lessons of self-discipline prepare us even more for the real world. Best of all, our athletes get the benefits of participating on a team in competitive action while receiving a world-class education.

Questioning the ‘elite’ education

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I’ll never forget the bursting excitement I felt when leaving home last year, anxiously anticipating life-changing college experiences to come. As I looked over my shoulder toward my family one last time before passing through airport security, I had tears in my eyes at the thought of leaving everyone I loved behind. I consoled myself with the fact that I was off to change the world. I was about to enter an environment where everyone cared about working toward building a better community and where I would be supported in both learning and practicing how to create these positive changes.  

Flash forward a little over a year later. Sophomore Brittni sits in McCabe overwhelmed by work, contemplating how on earth I’m going to complete all my readings and stressing over whether I studied enough for my next test. Letting out a sigh of frustration, I can’t help but notice everyone around me staring lifelessly at their laptops as well, probably considering similar fears. While I should take this social cue as motivation to get back to studying, this observation only drains me more. Everyone’s expressions are a cross between boredom and withdrawal from their surroundings, as if this studying is the defining element of their everyday routines.

I’m instantly overwhelmed as I feel suffocated by work and disconnected from everything around me. Suddenly, it seems that my ability to complete my academic work to the highest standards is the defining quality of my worth at this institution. Moreover, since Swarthmore is where I live, and therefore, my main community, this reality quickly translates into academic success defining my self-worth as an individual. It symbolizes my ability to succeed in the real world. This one-size-fits-all definition of success is both detrimental to mental health and unrepresentative of life in society.

At an academically intense, elite institution like Swarthmore, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the person who studies the most and sleeps the least is the most successful. There is this perpetual illusion of “if I am sleeping, I must not be studying enough” or “the more time I spend exercising, the less time I have to do my readings.” I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this type of atmosphere is unhealthy and does not properly prepare students for post-graduation reality.

Part of Swarthmore’s mission statement describes the goal of teaching students to prepare themselves “for full, balanced lives,” to make them “more useful members of society,” and to help students “realize their full intellectual and personal potential.” Unfortunately, as it stands, we are not meeting this goal. To live a balanced life, self-care needs to be prioritized, and part of self-care is learning that self-worth is obtained from more than just grades or studying.

To be more useful members of society and realize our personal potential, students need to accept that college is a time to explore more than just academics; it is a time to engage with extracurriculars and the outside community. College is where we are meant to begin discovering our passions. It is impossible to find that passion without not only exploring not intellectual subjects, but also joining extracurriculars that engage with the community, attending lectures by professionals in a field, and allowing yourself unstructured time to see where the mind wanders when it is allowed to be free.

This is not Swarthmore’s fault and may not even be unique to Swarthmore. As students, we have a tendency to engage in the unspoken competition of being the most intellectual or to strive for perfection, but we need to begin to ask ourselves how we should be defining perfection. Is perfection obtaining straight As and studying as much as possible, or is it creating a balanced life, engaging with the community, and becoming a role model for others?

David Orr, the author of “What is Education for?” states it best when he says “the plain fact is that the planet does not need more ‘successful’ people, bit does need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form.” In our current pursuits of academic and intellectual perfection to get into the perfect grad school or land the perfect internship, how much are we preparing ourselves for less conventional models of success, like change-makers, through actively supporting one another and mending issues in the community?

Leaving for Swarthmore last fall, I knew that I was signing myself up for an academically rigorous experience, and as an intellectual with a love of learning, I embraced this. However, I never agreed to let the academic intensity of an elite institution replace my love for community engagement. This an aspect of identity that ought not to be compromised. As Swatties, we have the opportunity to create a new vision for success. Through self-care, embracing our own talents, and sharing them with the community, we can transform the campus atmosphere and model a new definition of an “elite” institution that means so much more than academic rigor.

 

Blake Oetting meets Medieval Art at the Met

in Arts by

This summer, as Swarthmore students left campus to pursue various jobs and internships, art history major Blake Oetting ’18 traveled to New York City for an internship at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Working primarily at The Met Cloisters in Upper Manhattan for the education department, Oetting had a fantastic opportunity to explore his career of interest. He was one of eight undergraduate students, mostly rising juniors, seeking exposure to the world of art history and museum curating.

The Met Cloisters, Oetting explained, is a branch of the museum that displays the museum’s collection of medieval art. The museum’s mission is to educate and inspire their patrons as well as students who are interested in the field. For this reason, internships and volunteering programs at the Met are run and overseen by the education department.

Oetting and his fellow interns worked with museum educator Leslie Tait, who guided them through the nine-week program and introduced them to other members of the museum staff. During their time in New York, the interns led tours of the museum, attended lecture series taught by the museum staff, and followed several curators on tours of specific wings of The Cloisters. They also got the opportunity to visit other cultural institutions in the area including auction houses and other museums, and every Friday the interns at The Cloisters visited The Met Fifth Avenue to meet up with the interns working at that campus.

In his search for career options, Oetting came across the possibility of curatorial work and thought it would be interesting. His aunt, an art historian, informed him that most people looking to enter that field typically start off in the education departments of museums. Keeping his aunt’s words in mind, Oetting sought out an internship exploring the art world through museum education.

Oetting met with some resistance in finding an internship. Very few structured exploratory programs exist for undergraduate students. He found that the type of opportunity he was looking for was only offered by three museums: the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Cloisters, and the Museum of Modern Art.

“Usually,” he explained, “[internships] are for recent graduates getting very formal training in specific departments.”

Oetting talked to Professor Michael Cothren of Swarthmore’s art department about the internships. Cothren worked at The Cloisters before coming to Swarthmore and was able to provide more information about their program. With his professor’s encouragement, Oetting applied to The Cloisters and heard in very early March that he had been accepted.

“The internship was pretty intense,” Oetting said, “so I had to do a lot of work outside the 9:00 – 5:00 framework.”

In addition to their daily work at the museum, the interns were expected to prepare an independent research project which culminated in a public gallery talk at the end of the summer. On top of his busy schedule, Oetting had a long commute from his housing in the NYU dorms downtown to The Cloisters. As a result, he said, he didn’t get to explore New York as much as he would have liked to, but it was exciting for him to be in such a culturally rich city.

When asked what his favorite experience was from his time in New York, Oetting could not decide.

“I think there were two parts that were equally cool,” he insisted.

First he described giving tours of the museum to kids from local summer camps. The kids ranged in age from 4 to 13 years old, and for many of them, this was their first formal museum experience. Oetting said that while some of the kids were a bit bored, there were some who really loved it.

“There were these moments,” he said, “where I could see these kids really understanding why art was important. That was really fascinating and reminded me why museums are really important in terms of making art accessible.”

Meeting the president of the museum and director Tom Campbell was another aspect Oetting loved.

“These very famous people in the art world were somehow accessible to us which was incredible,” Oetting marveled.

The interns were encouraged to schedule meetings with various staff members at The Met to ask questions about their role in the museum world.

“A lot of people who work there, an absurd percentage it seemed, were also interns when they were in college,” Oetting commented. “So it made me hopeful that this could pan out. Jobs are real!”

각양각색 (各樣各色): Of Many Shapes and Colors

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

I chose Swarthmore College because they boasted about diversity. Diverse identities, races, sexual orientations, commitments—this was, as it probably is for many others, the reason I came to Swarthmore. The underlying expectation was that I would see parts of myself in the classes I take here, that I would not have to take a separate class on Asian Studies to see myself represented. The idea that I could learn subjects I genuinely cared about without having to compromise my racial identity was captivating.

A quick disclaimer because race is always a sensitive issue. I can only speak of my experiences. Remember during orientation we’re told to use “I” pronouns? I’m doing this here. But after two years and 16 courses, I still ask: Where am I?

I am an Educational Studies minor, so I am not so delusional as to believe that I have taken all the education courses offered at Swarthmore. Yet with the exception of Introduction to Education, I have deliberately chosen to take courses that claim to involve diversity in the curriculum. But after each course I am left wondering—where am I?

In classes and seminars, we learn that as future teachers our curriculums must be diverse, that our curriculums must be reflective of the students we teach, that we must somehow affirm aspects of their identities, and must affirm they exist. But do we have that in our classes now? Are we affirmed in our classes? Do we see the teachings of giants Pedro Noguera and Lisa Delpit practiced right here at Swarthmore college?

My answer is no, I don’t. I don’t see myself in classrooms, I don’t see this “Asian American” identity, “Asian American” myths being challenged or even present when we dispel myths of the supposed “culture” of Latinx and black students. Recognizing and pushing against the oppression of Latinx and black people is extremely important, and this effort must be supported by all other minority groups, including Asian Americans and Native Americans. I cannot stress this enough. But I don’t see us, and if I do see parts of us, it is in the form of the whites and Asians vs. the Blacks and Latinx. This is wrong. We are not white. We are not just Asian. We do not mean or exist to be pitted against black and Latinx communities, nor are we here to play misery poker. Nor do we enjoy the same privileges as white people. In fact, have you ever heard of the “bamboo ceiling?”

So why are we, a minority, never talked about when we talk of advancing opportunities for blacks and Latinx in classrooms? We are placed on opposing sides, with this underlying attitude of “Oh, it’s OK, they’re Asian. They’re an anomaly. They do well, adapt well wherever they go. They are insignificant in this discourse of equality and representation.”

This is where the fear comes in. What if these future teachers at Swarthmore endorse this idea of the model minority? For example, Pedro Noguera writes of his student Julian Ledesma, who wished to explore the truth of this model minority myth in 1995. Surveyed students and teachers at Fremont High School in Oakland were asked which group was perceived as the “most academically talented,” and the overwhelming answer was Asian students. But the average GPA for Asian students was a mere 1.9. The conclusion made was that “because Asian students were perceived as academically successful, little effort had been expended to provide them with the kind of academic support or special services that had been made available to other students,” (Noguera, City Schools and the American Dream, 44). What if the budding educators here at Swat go out in the world and become inspiring teachers who preach and practice “diverse” curriculums, but only for Black and Latinx students? Imagine that these teachers unknowingly endorse the idea of Asian Americans in classrooms as nothing other than the model minority, simply because Swarthmore had failed to include the discourse on Asian American education. How many Asian American children will walk away, disappointed and disheartened, feeling insignificant and isolated from the main discourse?

I acknowledge that there are many problems with just labeling us as “Asian.” For example, I am Korean. This superficial category “Asian” is  imposed upon us by CollegeBoard when we might actually be Chinese, Japanese, Singaporian, Taiwanese, Thai, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and a whole lot of other Asian identities that I can’t cover in this short column. But I believe in taking small steps, that even talking about “us” is a huge step. Yet at Swarthmore, I have not seen us. I have more often than not seen us as the silent, uniform, model minority in my classes. I have often been mistaken for another Asian girl in lectures and seminars alike. I have been told by some of my peers that all Asians look the same (in response, I bring up this beautiful Korean actress and ask if we still look the same and they say yes — but I know I do not look like her). Often times, however, we are not even discussed. We are seen as that group that slipped through the cracks of injustice, have been sprinkled with seemingly flattering statements of “model” and left to be glossed over, left to fester.

Perhaps this is why I am skeptical and puzzled by the diversity requirement. Why are we not asking what we can do with the existing curriculums, but intent on adding a new requirement? Why is even learning about diversity a requirement?  Why are we pushed into a space of being required to learn diversity when a simpler solution is for our existing curriculums to acknowledge diversity.

I leave you with this idea. We, as a community, cannot expect to be successful in advocating and advancing the rights, political involvement, and cultivation of a holistic view of culture for only a specific group without uplifting other groups as well. If we do not make a collective effort to support all other oppressed groups, we are left in a stalemate. Another cycle of -isms.

And professor, I actually suck at math.

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