Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Counter Cultures in the Classroom

When I was in high school in the early 1990s I rarely experienced anything that questioned the role of a dominant culture or even brought it much to light. Sure, we had cliques in school but for the most part they divided themselves along superficial lines (What type of music they liked, if they liked sports or not, what they looked like, etc.) But for the most part I don't remember encountering much of anything, perhaps I was sheltered in my small Midwest Nebraska town, that would suggest that people in the same geographic location could separate themselves among deeper lines.

Sure, there were differences in economic status, religion, and race and there were those in my hometown who chose to do things that went against the mainstream culture like homeschool their children but for the most part these divergences from what most people regarded as "normal" were viewed as fringe and strange.

Or they were considered sick, depraved, or outcasts.

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And, this post is not about youthful transgressions, teen angst, or rebellious youth.

This post is about counter culture.

Four years ago I was teaching in an alternative school in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis when I noticed that the kids I was working with were, in large part, aligning themselves along lines that ran deeper than just the superficial. The obvious examples were the Gangster Disciples and many of the immigrant students I had in class but this kind of social division was not only present in these two (usually unrelated) groups. It was happening with most of my students. They were not joining cliques, they were joining counter cultures.

Many of these counter cultures challenge long held beliefs about the world. They challenge conventional or dominant cultural values. They have different rules for engagement with the world, different "norms" and differing ways of showing respect, gratitude, love, anger, etc. In this context a member of a counter culture might not care about the same things other people care about. They operate with different motivators. And, with this social stratification happening across our society and with the new ease with which to find people of like mind the more empowered we are to operate and affiliate with that counter culture.

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And, with new social technologies shaping how we interact with one another this empowerment can lead people to abandon the "normal" social norms and explore more deeply their fantasies and their true beliefs.

Making it more acceptable to "drop out" and live off the grid and with different rules than the mainstream dominant culture.

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With public education being a state mandate it is highly likely, if you are a teacher, that your classroom contains students of multiple counter cultures. This may not be obvious in all cases but I am sure they are there. Not everyone operates with the same rules, the same values, the same general assumptions of how the world is supposed to work. Whats more, these kids might be of a different culture than their own parents. What kind of pedagogy do you use in a situation like this when many of the kids in your classroom are culturally "off the grid"?

I personally think this is another reason we have seen the rise in online education.

1 comment:

Mrs. Tenkely said...

I grew up in two different parts of town, one where "counter culture" was more obvious and another part of town that couldn't have been more homogeneous. I think it has always been around, maybe just not as widely spread as it seems to be now. I hadn't thought about the link to online learning but I am sure that this does have a part to play in the population of students that ends up in online classrooms.