What is a ‘contact zone’? Mary Louise Pratt, author of “Arts of the Contact Zone”, coins this term and describes it as “A social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other…” In my opinion, she is spot on! Each biology teacher had their own teaching styles causing some students to excel and others to lag behind – this pattern is seen through every department. It’s sad to think that kids are arguing with their counselors, begging them to transfer them into another teacher’s class, simply because they know the fail-to-pass of the teacher they’re stuck with.
Everyone is always interested in who the ‘winner’ is and who the ‘loser’ is. When teachers invite their own strategies into their classroom this may be viewed as a ‘win’ – right? After all, they have had a more extensive educational background, which probably brings along more real-life experiences – right? Perhaps a teacher who uses their own strategies is taking away from the learning experience – such as my math teacher, Mr. Thompson, who preferred to use precious class time to play pranks and socialize rather than work out equations. What if a teacher is actually depriving students of “intellectual spaces” instead of providing an environment for higher learning? Is our education system is too ‘utopian’? – Which is the inability to enact fraternity, liberty, and equality. We were definitely lacking in the equality of our classrooms at my high school. According to Pratt, she argues that “we need to develop ways of understanding (even noticing) social and intellectual spaces that are not homogeneous or unified”. Well – I think my high school was definitely NOT homogeneous – or rather it IS heterogeneous, just as she was hoping for us to see. I’m just not sure how this was such a great idea. I think the idea of a heterogeneous learning environment is good, but in actuality, it is bad. To decide on either a ‘homogeneous’ learning environment, or a ‘heterogeneous’ learning environment, I feel would be wrong. There can’t be one specific ‘winner’ as everyone hopes for. This is something that has too many variables to decipher right now. Its perfection can only come with time.
I can see the issues with both sides of the problem. While some teachers may have very good points of view on particular subjects, others may not. If teachers were allowed to use whatever material they wished curriculum would be inconsistent and virtually useless. How would we know if students were learning the skills they needed if textbooks and resources were left up to the teacher? Of course, if it’s placed on lockdown too much, students would be left with nothing but dry, hard-to-get-through material, which they would not enjoy. I feel as if I can relate to each side of this problem because I’ve experienced it on each extreme. I feel that if teachers have the power and ability to dictate the way their classrooms are taught, they need to meet with fellow coworkers to find a way to cultivate a classroom that is pleasing to all students. There should be a consistency in the classroom community (a system of shared beliefs, ideas, etc). Students shouldn’t have to gripe with higher authority in order to get the education they need.
Mr. Thompson had the sort of power that allowed him to utilize his classroom in whichever way he saw fit. He was given the ability to maximize performance in his students, give them all that they needed, bring in additional resources aside from the school district assigned textbook, and create activities that would best fit the learning styles of his students. However, he chose to let the child within him control this precious classroom time. So you can see how many feel that this power ought to be taken from the teachers. Too many teachers, like Mr. Thompson, are destroying the educational community by taking away what’s being directly given to them.
I feel that this particular issue with all the clashing and struggles, A.K.A: contact zones, isn’t something that will be solved now or in the near the future. With all the recent changes in school administration, people are trying to force change when it isn’t quite time. Good things come to those with patience, and I think when contact zones are involved, patience needs to be a key ingredient.