Category Archives: Cultural Stereotypes

Erring on the Side of Inclusivity

I was able to spend time with my friend Jen Orr recently and enjoyed talking with her and her husband about books and life and the world in general. She has a new book out–We’re Gonna Keep on Talking: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Elementary Classroom–that will probably be banned in Florida so that means we must all read it. I suspect her and coauthor Matthew Kay’s ideas for leading racism discussions will be beneficial for all of us.

Jen has been my blogging inspiration and cheerleader. I have been working on this blog post related to transgender rights since I saw her and am determined to press publish today. Jen, this one’s for you:

When it comes to transgender issues, we live in a noisy, messy world where activists lob social media grenades at each other and finding unsensationalized reporting is challenging. I do understand that cis women of a certain age struggle with opening their hard-won spaces to trans women, especially in sports. I get it: I was 10 when Title IX, banning discrimination in sports, was passed. While not an athlete myself (I earned my varsity letter for marching band), I loved cheering on my girl friends as they raced around the track or scored a goal on the hockey field. We thought we had a clear understanding of the differences between boys and girls in my rural conservative, evangelical community where the slide decks for our segregated sex-ed classes were edited so severely that we were left to imagine how it all worked until we either got married or, in my case, could get our hands on The Joy of Sex or the Kama Sutra, both of which I purchased at Rizzoli’s in Merchant Square in Williamsburg after arriving at William and Mary in 1980.

But despite understanding the concerns around sports, if, in your zeal to take a stand, you attack young people who are discovering identities beyond the baked-in binary biases that controlled our lives, you need to spend some time learning and reflecting. I’m looking at you, Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner, arguably the most famous trans woman in the world, is anti-transgender when it comes to sports, suggesting that it is clear that these athletes have a built in advantage and claiming that transgender athletes are the pawns of radical activists, seemingly ignoring her own use of them as means to her ends. Recently, she turned her ire on a high school junior. We are all on journeys, informed by our biases and life experiences, and Jenner is welcome to share her ideas on this topic, of which as she points out, she has some knowledge. But, making a young woman feel less, and, even worse, opening her to the horrors of the social media crowd, is simply wrong.

What I have learned as part of my own reflections is that, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the jury on the supposed advantage of men over women is very much still out in terms of research, especially related to elite athletes. Yet, various governing bodies from state legislatures to international committees are rushing to severely limit or outright ban transgender athletes from competition. The federal government is updating Title IX in support of transgender inclusion in sports while allowing some wiggle room for schools to discriminate when appropriate, particularly if fairness is at stake.

The goal, then, is a balance between fairness and inclusivity, with the current trend of banning athletes described as supporting fairness as that concept aligns with what we’ve always been told about men and women. But, until there is some definitive research that supports these baked-in biases, I would lean towards inclusivity. After all, in the areas where trans athletes have competed, they have notably not swept the field. And, if all we do is create bans, we lose the opportunity to expand the research that will help support informed decisions. The New York Times, in an article related to swimming’s 2022 transgender ban that occured after a trans swimmer won one race (while losing several others in the same meet, something that was not part of the headlines), discusses the issues related to finding this balance, concluding that it will be impossible to make everyone happy. Compromise rarely does, in my experience, that’s what makes it a compromise.

Perhaps Jen and Matthew might consider a follow up volume that explores how to have meaningful discussion around gender in the elementary classroom. I know we grownups could certainly use it!

Random Thoughts

Using RL communities as metaphors for the web:

From Nicholas Mirzoeff: Contrasts web addresses with MIT representing the gated community: “By contrast, an address at America Online is the equivalent of living in a tract home in a subdivision.” (Introduction to Visual Culture, p. 105)

From Jonathan Zittrain on net neutrality and government controls and the appeal of computer security: “This [security software] risks turning PCs into gated communities that can too easily become prisons patrolled by a single warden.” (From Technology Review, March/April 2006, p. 32)

The “New Way” of Reading:

From Educational Leadership, May 2006, an article that contrasts the old and new way of reading. It seems that kids these days need visual engagement in order to encourage reading. The author, Valerie Ruth Kirschenbaum, cites lots of research and challenges educators to be part of the paradigm shift: “History warns us that the establishment rarely recognizes a paradigm shift in its earliest manifestations. Maybe this time history will be wrong. Maybe this time the education establishment will wake up for what are students are screaming for: visually stunning, multi-sensory ways of reading and writing” (p. 50). I should mention that the four-page article was in color (which made it difficult to read the name of the journal I might add) with lots of visual stimulation. The font was larger with important words underlined in red. It was visually engaging but I kept thinking it was an advertisement. It just didn’t look like a real article…showing my own bias, I guess.

Life…but not really:

Just finished reading Michael Frome’s history of the Great Smokies, Strangers in High Places. He describes a tourist attraction near the mountains called Ghost Town, which the Asheville Times says is an authentic recreation of a frontier settlement. Frome quotes the paper, “Gun-totin’ youngsters and nostalgtic adults visiting Ghost Town find themselves transported into their favorite television western. From the team of bearded cowboys who enact the shootout to the waitresses and dancers in the saloons, costumes and architecture reflect the pioneer western atmosphere” (p. 314). Hmm…they aren’t transported to the past, instead they only get as far as a television western, a larger than life portrayal of the past that ignores individual experiences for a generalized historical view. Here is a real-life portrayal of a fictional virtual past…

Cultural Elites

I feel like I was a little hard on the kid from San Jose…he meant well. But then I remembered something Mirzoeff said about technology being seen as the next phase of evolution: “Those most able to deal with computing environments have become the new technocratic elite on merit, while less able people have fallen behind” (p. 107). Is this an example of that idea? The oppressed just need to turn to the web for salvation.

Why Podcasts Should Be Scripted…

I decided that I needed to become more familiar with podcasts and try to find a few that were worthwhile. I did a search in iTunes on education and technology and picked off the list. One I chose sounded familiar: Edupodder. The episode I listened to was a discussion of what a new media journalism class would look like. There were interesting ideas about how technology and online resources might be used as well as discussion about how the new media is influencing the old media.

On that last point–specificallly the relationship of traditional media outlets like The New York Times to new media such as the web–I think we as technologists should be careful making sweeping statements about which media will survive this transition. For instance, one speaker in the podcast seemed to feel as though aggregators were making newspaper such as the Times or The Washington Post obsolete. We would just go the Google News to get our news. But he has forgotten that Google News is not a new generator. They have no journalists on staff. No paid photographers. Instead, they simply organize the output of the news outlets in a new way. But they rely on those news outlets to provide content. Without the traditional media outlets supplying content, Google News would have nothing to display.

The major point of this post is to comment on one of the participants’ well-meaning but somewhat patronizing speech right at the end of the podcast about who would really benefit from more online learning.  I’ll begin by saying that I agree with his essential point: offering education online makes it accessible to lots more people.  If I take a more critical stance towards the vocabulary he uses to make that point, however, I am struck by his real lack of understanding of the lives of other people.  Here’s what he said that gave me pause:

“I do believe in educating the masses and there’s a lot of people who for whatever reason that can’t make it to class. Single mothers and stuff like that where they would have to take off work to go to class or like they’d miss picking up the kids and stuff. Now when they get home from their three jobs and picking up 20 kids [at which point there is laughter in the background] and making beds and all that stuff. But they can stay up late and at their leisure whenever they want look at it and take the information. I think that’s the greatest part about sites like Wikipedia. You can just get lost in your free time and then have this base of information that you learned.”

I was struck first by his sincere belief in “educating the masses.”  What does that mean in the 21st century?  Aren’t we all part of the masses?  Or are the masses those people who don’t have the luxury of sitting around a pizza parlor in San Jose ruminating on the future of education?  As I said, he’s certainly right that online educational opportunities would expand educational access to traditionally underserved populations.  (Is that just a fancy way of saying “educating the masses”?)

He did give us a glimpse of the masses he is taking about: “single mothers and stuff.”   I laughed out loud when, after painting a picture of this overworked, child-laden woman, he suggested that she can get online either “late at night” or “at her leisure.” Most likely, these two are synonymous, and our anonymous working mom would find it a challenge to set aside time to go online even if she could do it “whenever she wanted.” It takes a certain amount of either free time or the support of an employer to pursue educaiton whether face to face or online. The speaker here has a rather cavalier attitude towards this woman despite his best wishes for her future. It’s also interesting to me that he makes the assumption that this woman has a computer and Internet access.

So, one of my first impressions of podcasting–certainly a “new” media–is a rhetorical one: extemperaneous speech reveals cultural stereotypes and assumptions. The power of podcasting is the ability to capture that speech–the speech of individuals–and analyze it for these cultural revelations. Here we have a snapshot of the “single mom,” exaggerated but certainly arising from a particular shared definition. The speaker, however, only has a superficial notion of the reality behind the definition.  His speech reveals his cultural biases.