Lawns, Laces, and Life - Oh My! Reflections on Windows and Mirrors

Pat Badger, Performing Arts Head/Music Teacher, The Prairie School, Racine, Wisconsin
42 years teaching experience
SEED New Leaders’ Week 1993
Essay written 2012

In SEED seminars we discover again and again that the stories of our selves are as rich as the stories in the books on our shelves. The SEED process reminds us that inclusiveness begins within each of us. By remembering, reflecting and reclaiming our own stories, SEED empowers our learning and reminds us that the personal is profoundly powerful and political.

One way SEED explores inclusiveness is through the use of a metaphor, created by SEED Co-Director Emily Style, and explained in an article called "Curriculum as Window and Mirror." Reflecting on a topic or picture or word, we recall our own experiences and tell our own stories. We speak with a partner, sharing our differences and common experiences. We agree to talk for a specific amount of time with no interruptions. We agree to listen whole-heartedly. We agree to be in the moment with one another. This specific process of re- visioning weaves our voices into conversations about commonalities and differences.

Many SEED leaders first encounter the idea of "Curriculum as Window and Mirror" through an activity that uses the paintings from the book, "A Piece of My Heart," by Carmen Lomas Garza. Her paintings of her childhood in a Mexican-American family, celebrating her heritage, are a starting point for reflections on family, culture, and gender roles. In this activity participants choose an illustration from the book. In a pair/share, they talk about what in that picture provides a mirror for them — what reflects their own experience back to them. Then, they talk about what in that picture provides a window for them—showing them something different from their own experience. Windows and mirrors become metaphors for what is similar to or different from one’s own story.

I remember using SEED Founder Peggy McIntosh’s suggestion of lawns as a topic for a seminar activity. Journaling about childhood memories of grass, we recalled lawns wild, manicured, and replaced by concrete. . . . We discussed what our "grass" experience said about class, ethnicity, race, gender, and disability. Our conversation had transformed into reflections about systems of power.

I remember using SEED Founder Peggy McIntosh’s suggestion of lawns as a topic for a seminar activity. Journaling about childhood memories of grass, we recalled lawns wild, manicured, and replaced by concrete. We spoke in small groups of parks and prairies, of mowing grass and keeping off the grass! Speaking around the circle, we reflected on urban life, rural experiences, immigrant labor, family roles, and gender expectations. We waxed metaphoric: what happens when grass is genetically manipulated, or when it’s planted, like some isolated student, in an unsuitable environment? We discussed what our "grass" experience said about class, ethnicity, race, gender, and disability. Our conversation had transformed into reflections about systems of power.

Teachers and students encounter these same systems of power in their classrooms, and find their individual windows and mirrors. I recently met a new student, Kahlil, who insisted on being called Keith, on the first day of school. He talked only of basketball, which he imagined would link him to other students. But he found a cultural mirror when he discovered a calendar in my music classroom and loudly exclaimed, "This is in Arabic!" The next day we met the real Kahlil. And he could now give us a window into the yearly trips to Jordan that are so important to his family. As I got to know him, I began to realize that Kahlil and I shared a special mirror; I discovered we both had difficulty because we reversed images when we learned. We each had to adapt to a similar learning challenge.

For years I gave no thought to how I tied my shoes. And then in my thirties a friend remarked, "You tie your shoes funny." We stopped what we were doing and compared techniques. As I looked through this window into my friend’s world I realized I did tie my shoes differently. "See," she said, "You tie them backwards. When I watch I can’t imagine doing it like you do! I couldn’t do it!" Backwards, unknowing, reversed, different, wrong, not normal--the litany of labels grows in my head. I keep it to myself. I have a learning disability? I forget about it. But, knowing it changes me. It helps me understand why I was labeled as clumsy in learning physical movement. Why my first "S" letters were written backwards. Why I struggle to part my hair. Why I find some teacher demonstrations are challenging to master. These new insights shed light on the history of the self I assumed I knew.

Following my self-discovery I decide to focus on shoes in a SEED seminar session. We talk about the empowerment that comes from learning to tie your laces. We talk about what’s culturally significant about certain shoes. Which shoes are loaded with gender, sexual identity or ageist messages? What does the "idea of appropriate" footwear say about our social class to those we teach or work for? And, of course, why would someone tie his or her shoelaces differently?

Back in the music classroom I realize Kahlil’s learning style mirrors my own: we both need side-by-side modeling to find our musical voices. As I work with him, SEED continues to plant questions in me. I wonder whose voices I never hear, whose differences I don’t see and thus ignore when they don’t fit in. Whose voices are so silenced they don’t hear me speaking to theirs? What labels, expectations, and assumptions do I embrace, ignoring those whose steps are different from my own?

Seeking inclusiveness through SEED is an art. Each new awakening leads to more questions and deepening revelations, surfacing commonalities and differences, clarifying interior and exterior voices, encouraging speaking and listening. At best, good SEEDY teaching helps each of us settle into our complete selves, while embracing the complete selves of our students in the classroom. In the end, discovery through the SEED process reveals power and possibility.

Tags: Leader Essays Windows and Mirrors

— Cheryl Robinson, Supervisor, Office of Minority Achievement, Arlington Public Schools, Virginia

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy