Taky la Penguinita

I happened to pick up a children’s story that was translated into Spanish about Tacky the Penguin, translated as Taky la Penguita.  Taky’s friends were Amable, Correcto, Perfecto (friendly, correct and perfect), while Taky was . . . tacky.  He had on a Hawaiian shirt.  His friends were more demure, and he was flamboyant.  When others politely said “Hola,” his greetings were much louder.  Taky was repeatedly referred to as an odd bird, which in Spanish is pájaro.

Now, having taught teenaged Hispanic and Latino children, I have grown accustomed to another meaning of párajo, and slowly Taky seemed to fit the bill for it: homosexual.  Maybe I was reading into it, but the book was turning into a story about one guy who just didn’t fit in and was different from the others.  As expected, when the other birds (originally named Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect in English) got in trouble, Taky (though tacky) was able to save the day and the other penguins rushed up to give him hugs and appreciation, accepting him, not for who he presented himself to be, but for the goodness on the inside.

So I thought, is this a text about accepting others?  Despite their differences? Even if their difference is a sexual orientation?  My friend confirmed that is not.  (No summary of the text has denied it.)

So did I project homosexuality on the tackily dress, flamboyant penguin.  Did I read into the use of a slang word in a translation meant for children for whom pájaro simply means bird?  Did I let my own stereotypes about homosexual and hetereosexual differences cause me to make a value-based assessment of a children’s book? 

Most likely. 

The lesson I’ve learned is twofold.  Be careful of what you put onto the characters and components of literature and choose your words wisely when translating for a population that is more familiar with idiom and expression than you might be.



Unit of Study

Unit for the SCWAMP Ideological Framework
English, Communication and Broadcasting – Media

Begin with the definition of ideology and ideological framework

  • Explain how ideology presents itself in actions, thoughts, words, product
  • Example: political parties, racism, etc. influencing actions, thoughts, words, product

Introduce the SCWAMP framework –

  • Identify what is acceptable according to this framerwork:
  • Straight, Christian, White, Able-Bodied, Male, Propertied
  • Identify what is not acceptable according to this framework:
  • Homosexuality, other faiths, non-White, disabilities, female, poverty

Identify how the framework is upheld in society

  • All elements

Identify how the framework is upheld in a television show (students choose from own knowledge)

  • All elements

Identify how the framework can be identifed in print ad (student select from ads in classroom)

  • Choose the dominant element
  • Is the element upheld according to the framework or is it broken down?

Class Reading

  • Reading establishes plot of Save the Last Dance and asks questions to focus on questioning the ideologies privileged in the film

Viewing of Save the Last Dance and Deconstruction of the Film

  • Identifying how the framework is upheld or taken down by the film
  • All elements

Discussion for Response Entry

  • Are you a product of the ideological framework? What ideas, beliefs, actions of yours support/break down the framework?
  • Can media break down the ideological framework?
  • Does the need to acknowledge the element of the framework limit the ability to break down the element?

Response to “The Brothers and Sisters Learn to Write,” by Anne Haas Dyson

Concerning the group dynamics and completion of the project, it was generally accepted that we felt disconnected from one another and from our text as we generated the presentation separately through Google Docs.  Though the technology seemed to offer us an opportunity to work more efficiently, it also made the process less personal.  Technology may allow us to make the world smaller, but its effect on the discourse may be that while we are more often in communication, but we may actually be less interconnected.
Our view on the needs of the presentation and our initial approach to dividing the work was another issue that raised our awareness of our process.  As we hurried to get the text read and present all of the information we felt a crunch that I began to relate to how we look at curriculum.  It was very similar to how teachers sit with new curriculum at the beginning of the year, and are torn between covering and “discovering” the material.  A similar feeling was expressed by many of the group members. It became clear that we very nearly missed getting into the deeper issues of the text because we wanted so badly to touch upon all the text had to offer.
We also needed to strike a balance between our critical reading including not only what we felt made the study an excellent entry point to understanding the relation between popular and school literacies, but how to also discuss the points that made us feel that the study was lacking in its methodology.  Part of what is difficult in critiquing literature is determining whether or not the reader has the authority to question the author.  Though I often tell my students to interact with the text, ask questions of the author, and weigh which pieces they feel are aligned with their beliefs and which pieces leave them asking for more, we had trouble in our group reaching a point where we could do these same things.
My critiques of the text are mostly limited to those discussed in the presentation.  I wonder if Dyson’s interpretations may have been more thorough or more representative of the students’ intentions if she were more familiar with the cultural literacies in the students’ lives.  I truly believe that this is not an intentional disassociation, but rather the result of her position within education.  Our group discussed the idea that while teacher researchers, such as Ballenger, may fall victim to adding their own ideas to the products they study, teacher researchers are closer to the subjects and work products of the study.  The inclusion of a glossary of popular literacies, repeated discussion of which pieces were and were not “mainstream,” and the excessive explanation of references with which I was familiar were signs that there was a disconnect between the researcher and literacies involved in the study.
We questioned the attitudes towards which literacy we felt were privileged in the text.  It seemed that there was value placed upon the use of popular literacies, but we felt there was not a clear push for the transfer of the skills gained using popular literacies to succeed in the official world of school. What makes this point more intriguing is the fact that the adults Dyson interviewed discussed their need to revise their works to succeed within their own official worlds.  Clearly the idea of transfer is vital, but we felt that Dyson was too accepting of production that did not reflect clear transfer into written work, as in the case of Noah’s appropriate verbal responses that did not correlate to this written product.
Another concern we discussed as a group was the idea that the study focused on one subset of the class over a short period of time.  It was mentioned in a later class as a response to Family Literacy that researchers need to set parameters when designing studies.  This is understandable, but this can leave the reader with many questions about those parameters.  Perhaps, however, this is how research moves forward.  We concluded that although we initially felt this was a limitation on the results of the study, we realized that the questions we had were similar to questions others may have, and those questions may fuel additional studies on related topics.  In the end, the exploration of issues beyond the scope of the study can develop the research exponentially.
These critiques aside, there were many valuable theories to the acquisition of writing skill in relation to popular literacies.  I believe I am more likely to accept a student’s reference to popular literacies, but I think I will extend the reference to connect to the official, school literacy.  The text has also confirmed my suspicions that popular literacies are excellent entry points to access the official practices of school. Teachers often get so wrapped up on the end goal of their lesson plan they lose sight of the fact that students’ connections are not tangents or entirely outside of the context of the learning content.  I can think of times in which I have been torn between following the reference to the transfer point during a moment in which I wanted desperately to get back to my culturally irrelevant lesson plan. I believe my new knowledge of the use of popular literacies will help me realize that I can achieve my official goal through the use of unofficial literacy. Also, just as Marcel used sports teams to acclimate himself to his position on the map and distances between cities and states, I have used a sports league as a reference point to begin geography.  I feel comfortable enough within my understanding of the popular literacies related to sports to use the function of sports media within my classroom as a point to access official literacy.  I am reminded the importance of staying culturally aware, in areas beyond my comfort zone.

The Brothers and Sisters Learn to Write, Anne Haas Dyson

Dyson spoke with:

·        Parents

·        Miss Rita, the teacher

·        Representatives of KMEL, the local radio station

·        Coach, a member of the staff of the Oakland Raiders

·        Pen, an illustrator for an animated action series


During these meetings, Dyson displayed classroom artifacts that represented both the official and unofficial components of the previous year’s work, which reflected the school and popular literacies discussed throughout her text.

Dyson also incorporated her own opinions and reflections upon the research to conclude her study

Adults showed surprise at the influence of popular literacies on the children

·        DJ was surprised that six year old children listened to the radio show

·        Coach was surprised that that student played games that made them members of sports teams they watched in the media

·        Parents were shocked to hear their children express opinions or following along to songs they viewed as too mature for, or outside the understanding of their children

The role of mediating between students and popular and official literacy is unclear for each member of the students’ lives 

·        Parents feel they cannot filter all of the music, media and other popular literacies their children view because they are “everywhere”

·        Media members (sports, music and animation) hope that parents can regulate the interaction their children have with media, as the media is a business and is not run for the purpose of safeguarding children

·        Teachers believe that the disconnect between their daily work and the parents, the administration, their fellow teachers and the curriculum limits their power to mediate how students interact with literacies outside of school

Adults recognize that in their employment there is an official and unofficial discourse:

·        Pen realizes that he must use words like “blast” instead of words like “shoot” because his employers present the boundaries of the official world and which literacies will be available for his use

·        DJ recognizes that the businessmen dictate the official discourse of the radio station and decide whose voices will be heard in the form of music played

·        Coach recognizes that was is promoted within the discourse of sports media is that which makes money and brings in the viewers

Adults think that students should be educated to understand the official discourses behind what makes up their popular literacies – this additionally is a transferable skill for students learning within official and unofficial discourses

·        DJ believes that industries that promote popular literacies should be present in school; Coach believes that students should understand the business behind sports and sports media

·        Dyson points out that Noah would understand an animator’s need to self-censor because the student was able to change a character’s gun to a water gun

Adults think that students should be educated to understand the official discourses behind what makes up their popular literacies – this as a skill is additionally is a transferable skill for students learning within official and unofficial discourses

·        DJ believes that industries that promote popular literacies should be present in school

·        Coach believes that students should understand the business behind sports and sports media

·        Dyson points out that Noah would understand an animator’s need to self-censor because the student was able to change a character’s gun to a water gun

Academic Researches as Outside the Popular Literacies and Cultures of a School and School-Aged Children

·        Dyson recognizes the fact that she is unfamiliar with the popular literacies the students have included in their discourse within the official and unofficial worlds during the school day

·        As an academic researcher, Dyson is at a disadvantage; she is outside both the official and unofficial worlds

·        Teacher-researchers are more likely to correctly interpret the actions and dialogue of students within their classes because of their familiarity with the neighborhood, the students, the local and national media and their understanding of the age group




Agree or Disagree

The activity used in class on Wednesday involved a group of two or three discussing whether or not they agreed with statements presented to them by the teacher.  In the group, the students had to agree, disagree or place themselves somewhere on an imaginary continuum between the two.

I would consider using this activity in class, but only with the following considerations:

  • The statements would have to be explicit.  When the statements are vague, those completing the activity may not know to what exactly they are responding.  There is some reservation to participate when the statements are confusing.
  • The continuum really is advisable.  To think that statements can be answered in a black-and-white agree-or-disagree way really ignores the nuances that go into people’s philosophies and ideologies.  We found ourselves defending our answers to ourselves and bringing up “What if?” scenarios to counter our own decisions.  There needs to be gray area.
  • Grouping is so important.  I realized that my group was actually very pleasant. If I had been asked to choose two people from the room, the people I had worked with could have been two people I would have personally picked.  That was great, because I felt free to discuss my opinions openly. I would have felt the need to conform to the opinions of others if I did not feel so comfortable discussing my personal philosophy.
  • Discussion of what to do upon consensus.  We froze when we all agreed. Do we share the reasons why and discuss if our reasons are the same? Do we say we agree, and then in explaining our rationale actually begin to disagree? Does someone take the position of the devil’s advocate just make conversation and feel like they are most greatly participating to the letter of the activity.  Our group in fact did each of these, and we were anxiety-ridden at each turn.  The decision of what to do upon consensus should be decided in advance.  

Variations on how I would use the activity in a classroom setting:

  • Use this activity with a physical continuum within the classroom’s physical space.  Make one end an agree end and one end a disagree end.  The physical space allows for the shades of gray, but also gives a definite kinesthetic value to the decision making process.  The sight of the students along the continuum is actually a quick summation of the final consensus, and could be quite interesting to take in as both a participant along the continuum and as a view of the continuum.
  • Use this activity as a whole class activity.  Inviting the whole class to move along a physical continuum takes some of the pressure off of one’s decision, and also allows all of the students to participate more comfortably and even anonymously.   It may be easier for some to silent move to a different location than it would be to voice an opinion to two people.  When used for the whole class, this can be an excellent break in desk work and a quick assessment for a teacher to use on the entire class.  The teacher can use this as a quick gauge of understanding of any topic, so long as it is placed in the agree/disagree model.  
  • Use this activity to teach persuasion.  Make the students agree with an idea they would not normally defend.  This eliminates the personal attachment to the opinion, which makes disagreements sound less like refutations.  Additionally, the defense of one’s decision when given a side cannot be “because I think so,” or “because I always have.”   The need to defend a new idea may encourage critical thinking and teach viewing an idea through another’s perspective.


Active Listening

Active listening requires that two people speak to one another with the goal of listening intently.  One person speaks for a limited time, another listens; the listener then gives back what the person has said.  It is very difficult for many grad students and high school students to block out their own ideas and opinions, and actually actively listen.  

People do not realize that when they listen, they are adding their own ideas to what they are hearing.  Other times, they are getting caught up on the first few ideas, and reply with some tangential idea.  Normal conversations among friends often go this way – my friend tells me about her landlord, and I tell her about my landlord as a child, and she tells me about what her mother used to do when she was growing up, so on.  Academic dialogue really should not.

I suppose that the use of this protocol is an example of codeswitching, not only in our speech but in how we listen.  We must block distracting information out, and keep ourselves from putting our own opinions on those in the classroom.  Also, if we do want to continue the thread of the conversation without going off topic, we must listening active so that our next comment allows the conversation to flow.  

I have used this protocol before, and mostly in adult situations.  In my group text, The Brothers and Sisters Learn to Write . . ., Ms. Rita demonstrates in a fishbowl an appropriate speaking and listening protocol for an upcoming activity.  Protocol development remains an important educational strategy for guiding conversation and teaching social skills. This is an activity that can be used in the classroom, especially in an English or Advisory class, but also in any class in which importance is placed on dialogue. 

Critical Reading of a Television Commercial

City folks just don’t get it”

As part of the Extra Innings Baseball Package, DirecTv nightly airs the feeds of 15 games, along with their local commercials. I get to see ads for Sonic, Carl’s Jr., and many other places that are not represented in my local market. Farmersonly.com airs a commercial in the early innings of baseball games broadcast on the Fox affiliates FSN Pittsburgh and FSN Ohio, which usually place the ads between 7:00 and 8:30 pm.

A dog and a horse lament that “Jill” is “really lonely, out walking the cornfields,” while across fields, a bull asks if “Dave will ever find his true love . . .” and is answered by a cow that points out he won’t “hanging out with us all day.” A cartoon version of American Gothic appears, and the austere, white “farmer” and his “wife” share that they used to be lonely until they met at farmersonly.com, “an online dating site for farmers, ranchers, and good old country folks.” The jingle voice sings “You don’t have to be lonely, at farmers.only.com,” and a scrap of yellow paper is thumbtacked above the portrait on which the words (read aloud by the male farmer) “City folks just don’t get it” are written in handwriting.

The target audience of this commercial is clearly the agriculture and livestock sector, but also could possibly include baseball fans, those that are very committed to their farming and ranching, and the tech-savvy, single population of Pennsylvania and Ohio. It is constructed to appeal to their specific sensibilities, and it is made clear the sensibilities of good old folk are very different from those that currently dominate the online-dating community.

The rural is contrasted with the urban, defying geographic boundaries in connecting “good old country folks” to their ranching and farming kin. There is a clear disconnect between those values and those of the “city folk,” because as the slogan claims, city folk just don’t get it. What is privileged is tending the land, care of animals (pets or livestock), and working so hard there is little time left to take care of oneself and one’s social life. It is so constructed by the use of shots of fields, farm animals with drawls, and in the fact the subjects are dedicated to their work despite their growing loneliness. “Jill and Dave” are both fair-featured whites, dressed in a way that is appropriate to their employment (denim, flannel, work gloves) possibly done intentionally to give a “just as they are” air. The use of American Gothic appeals not only to those in farming-related fields, but those who feel downright American (which may in fact may be a misuse of a cultural artifact, as those that posed for the portrait were actually father and daughter, and the relationship between the two has never been defined; there may joke to be made here about filial relationships in the stereotypical farm families that go misunderstood by “city folk”).

The commercial allows for empowerment of an underrepresented sector within the online-dating community, and it implies that the other services do not uphold the values of this group. As a member of the group excluded by the name of the website and the final note of the commercial, I wonder if the fast-paced world in which I live, which affords me the opportunity to socialize beyond the hands or my family, or with minorities for that matter, should exclude me from the value system of these singles. I do see that there is value to finding someone very much like yourself, especially for dating and maybe marriage. Some, rural or urban, may view this commercial and see it as fulfilling a niche in the internet world; others may find it to be too exclusive.