A Letter to the Editors


by Saskia van Kampen, Head of Year UWCM
April 7th, 2018


[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

In 1990, legendary pop icon and all-around style guru Madonna took to the stage in her Blonde Ambition tour sporting a piece of clothing that would come to define both her and the designer of the garment, Jean-Paul Gaultier, for decades to come. Rocking a pink cone bra the Material Girl simultaneously delighted, confused, and infuriated men and women all over the world depending on their interpretation of the value and use of the piece. Opinions on the item ranged from it being indecent to liberating to downright incomprehensible; just about everybody agreed it was impractical and polarising.
a
Considering the history of the bra, this was not an unexpected reaction. From its earliest incarnations in ancient Egypt denoting class, through the health-hazardous restrictive Victorian corset, to modern day fashion item, the bra has come to be synonymous with the social standing of women in any given society. For example, in the 1960s in Western countries the second wave of feminism considered burning the bra the ultimate rejection of the objectification and sexulisation of women enforced by the patriarchy, a notion that lingers today. For others the piece of clothing was and is merely a practical device used to stop breasts from flying all over the place while out for a run – a simple garment of support.
a
My Language and Literature students know very well that as an English teacher I am in the business of context. Understanding the cultural, historical, and social details in which a narrative sits teaches us about the perspectives of others. It helps us understand that our truth isn’t necessarily someone else’s. Learning about and understanding context opens our minds to a broader and richer view of the world at large as well as our local communities.

a
If context is important in my role as teacher, it is even more vital in my role as a Head of Year. For example, on the surface the dreaded N on the attendance record is nothing more than an unauthorized absence. When we put that letter in the context of an individual student’s life any number of truths can come to the surface. The pattern of Ns may show a student avoiding a certain class, revealing an underlying issue with the subject or teacher. Ns in the first period might bring to light either someone whose longing for home has them on Skype at 3 in the morning, or a student who has to ensure their brothers and sisters are safely in school before coming to their own classes. Contextualised, that seemingly objective N can be the proverbial tip of the iceberg that hides challenges and obstacles in someone’s life that require a follow up of support and understanding. In short it needs student support.
a
The concept of student support becomes trickier when it intertwines with what is termed disciplinary action. Where in the previous paragraph the follow up actions tutors or Heads of Year take are easily seen as student support across the community, opinions become more divided when a student is assigned Friday Space for having 10 or more unauthorized absences that have no justifiable underlying root cause. Perhaps controversially, from my perspective, here a disciplinary follow up firmly sits in the realm of student support as well. Experience has taught me that this amount of lessons missed is detrimental to the academic progress of a student. Countering the Ns is countering their consequences of anxiety, avoidance, and additional absenteeism if left unchecked. It is a different iteration of the same concept mentioned in the previous paragraph: as a member of staff, specifically as one in an HoY position, I have the obligation to support a student in succeeding at our school, even if that means making less popular decisions that hold a student accountable for the consequences of their actions.

a
Trickier still is when Friday Space is used as a follow up for violating basic community agreements such as smoking close to campus, missing IA deadlines, or failing to do a homework assignment on Kognity. The question then becomes: to what extent do different members of the community consider holding a student accountable for not living up to a set expectation a form of student support and, therefore, consider Friday Space the appropriate venue for a follow up?
a
From my perspective, consequences to these examples do constitute student support, not just for the individual student, but also in the broader community sense of the term, for example when considering the health problems caused by second-hand smoke, a positive recognition of those students who do consistently meet deadlines, and showing respect for the fact that individual actions have an impact on other members of the community – staff and students. At the same time I recognise that in these scenarios the lines get blurred if Friday Space is perceived to be the only option available for the necessary consequences, particularly in light of the variety of definitions of student support.
a
In The Flying Dutchman’s most recent issue, the editorial compared this use of Friday Space to prison, stating that the original intent of Friday Space was to provide a quiet space so that “[i]f a student disliked working in the library for all its loud chatter or found it impossible to concentrate on chaotic floors, they could turn to Friday Space to work under the supervision and support of teaching staff. “
a
This is, in fact, not the full context in which Friday Space was created. From the start the 15.30 to 17.00 time support slot has had the difficult task of balancing the different possible interpretations of student support, allowing students to voluntarily attend as well as for staff to assign students who for one reason or the other fell behind on their work or attendance. The space has been used well as such for the past two and a half years. Therefore, the call for a reinvention in light of two instances in which there was a disagreement about the use of Friday Space seems like an overreaction to me.
a
What the article did make clear to me was that across the community there is a need for clarity and consistency in addition to consideration for the individual students’ contexts in pursuing the best possible balance in all the definitions of student support. It raises questions such as “Do we need alternative spaces for different forms of student support?” and if we agree on that how do we organise such spaces? Additionally, the call for clear communication is one I appreciate very much and it is in that spirit I challenge all of us to a conversation in which critical thinking, self-reflection, and open-mindedness can bring us closer to understanding each other when we speak about student support.
a
To sum up, and please forgive the clumsy support analogy, in this recent discussion in many ways Friday Space is Madonna’s Gaultier bra. Some view it as the belittling oppression of UWC values by staff-triarchy, where others see it as a simple item of support. Its existence simultaneously delights, confuses, and infuriates staff and students all over campus depending on the personal context they bring and the value they attach to it. Opinions range from the time slot being indecent to liberating to downright incomprehensible at a UWC; but if we agree on anything, let’s agree on this: rather than letting it become a polarising narrative of us versus them , let the stage on which we perform this dialogue be one on which we recognise that in a diverse community the different contexts, needs, and individual truths we bring to the table inevitably inform our definition of student support and the way we think best to meet those needs.

[/aesop_content]

a

 

485 views