Books. Laptops. Construction paper. Text books. Desks. Bells. Backpacks. Pens. Smart board styluses. White boards. LCD projectors. Hall passes. The list goes on.
The spaces of learning — whether we are discussing classrooms, libraries, extracurricular clubs — are full of a lot of tangible stuff. However, if we want to improve learning, the gaze of educators needs to look beyond the materiality of classrooms and closer at the individuals within these spaces. We need to consider how the relationships between participants in learning spaces captivate and thrill.
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, about her recently published book Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Language, Learning, and Love. Detailing a four-year period of running an after-school program (in the book called B-Club), Marjorie’s book is an insightful look into learning and love within a highly diverse community in Los Angeles.
Power and Animation
In our conversation and in her book, I am particularly appreciative of Marjorie’s attention to the shifting and often uncertain power dynamic within the after-school setting and the uncertainties of the undergraduate students that attempt to work alongside youth much younger than them. In talking with Marjorie, I’m particularly appreciative of the reminder to focus on the movement and energy within learning contexts rather than on what is created.
Further, Marjorie’s emphasis on “animation” is one that the DML community should take heed of. She writes, “What exactly does it mean for eyes to light up? We know it when we see it: a sparkle that glistens through what has been called our windows to the soul, kindled by things we know and love and want to share. This is an outward manifestation of inward animation: a stirring or movement of the spirit from within.”
And, I think alongside animation, the role of love is one that is not often given the attention that it needs. Perhaps even more problematically, the “L-word” is one that is often seen with suspicion. Discussing the title of her book early in the interview, Marjorie says we should ask, “Why does the notion of love in relation to education feel so transgressive?”
Recalling a moment when I was frustrated as a high school teacher, my colleague Travis — whose classroom we used during the period — began venting about the apathy he saw from a handful of my students. It wasn’t yelling and it wasn’t nagging, it was frustration at seeing the students he taught in 9th grade in less-than-stellar light a few years later. As he walked out of the class, Travis said, “I’m only saying all of this to you because I love you.” Though a few students smiled, the genuine feeling was one that seemed to connect with the class (and helped with my still clumsy classroom management skills at the time).
It’s rare that we hear such frank statements and proclamations of feelings within learning spaces. We need to till such affirmations of love more forcefully into the loam of schools and classrooms. As Marjorie notes, “If we can move past our own fears and reactions, we may find our way back to a loving stance that reminds us to see potential.”
Banner image credit: UC Irvine