Monday, May 4, 2009

to all those still checking in

I’m reading a book titled Outcasts United: A Refugee Soccer Team, an American Town by Warren St. John. I found the book when I treated myself to a mid-day trip to Barnes and Noble after an early doctor’s appointment for my second of three levels of casts for my wrist, which I broke several weeks ago. I took a seat in the café section and began to read, and within the first chapter found myself doing the ugly weeping that comes when I read those books that I can’t quite describe, but are filled with historical suffering. This leads me on a tangent –why the hell aren’t history books written more like this? Anyway, luckily there wasn’t a crowd, but when I finally stopped and went to pay, the check-out lady noticed my ugly face and asked if something was wrong or if she could help me. Somehow, in those situations when I don’t think I should be embarrassed by my all too uninhibited emotion, I am.

Well, the book is really good. The town is Clarkston, Georgia (check out the town website - I bet they aded those welcomes after the book came out), to the east of Atlanta. Beginning in the early 1990s it was designated a refugee settlement center. The story is basically about an old, white southern town struggling against the diversity forced upon itself, focusing on a refugee soccer team, named the Fugees, coached by a Jordanian woman.

On page 184, eventually the author comes around to explicitly discussing theory, which I found extremely interesting, since I’m not only interested in working harder, but also working smarter. So, he quotes Steven Vertovec, who wrote a paper titled, “New complexities of cohesion in Britain: Super-diversity, transnationalism and civil-integration.” I haven’t read the whole thing, only skimmed it, but St. John (the author of the soccer book) does a neat job of boiling it down to three points (of which I’m sure it’s more complicated).

Here’s my attempt at a paraphrase of a paraphrase:
3 step process for building connections among the super diverse: (1) “consider all the categories an individual belongs to” – and in doing so all the larger more defining categories that separate people usually dissolves; this made me think of the identity web (I think that’s what it’s called) that we did in the seminar; (2) “recategorization” – into which people classify themselves by their similarities rather than their differences, thus redefining “the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’; and (3) “mutual differentiation” – where the various groups begin to respect the other groups and individual identity is respected, building an interdependence among the groups.

That might be a lame attempt, but I still wanted to share it. I think it has a direct relation to what we’re all trying to do. I’m still thinking of ways to work my kids through the process without much diversity present within our classroom. I do the identity web (that’s what I call it), and then allow that to lead us to discover who that excludes and why, and then examine our attitudes and beliefs about “us” and “them” or “self” and “other”. I can see the recategorization being a fun challenge for 8th graders – “Let’s see who can find the most nonsuperficial connections among one another who you might not normally hang out with!” Certainly the exercise can help students identify similarities, but will that grow respect - I don't know. I guess what I hope would happen is the so called mutual differentiation.

And that’s all I’ve got folks. I hope all things are going well. As will be my custom, I’m leaving you with an updated picture, taken a few weeks ago on a quick but wonderful trip back home to New Orleans for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. That's me on the left, with my dad in the middle and an uncle on the right.

Ya’ll take care now.

1 comment:

Larry Neuburger said...

Hey Thomas!
Good to hear from you. Believe it or not, I have been to the Jazz Festival and had a great time. I would love to get together with you. I am co teaching the advanced institute in July at MSU. You ought to come. We will be doing Digital Storytelling. It's gonna be fun.
I have always admired your sensitivity Thomas. That's one one of the things that make you a special person. It makes you real.