In an attempt at alchemy, I present a draft of my purpose statement for my application into the University of Oregon doctoral program. Any feedback, jests or insults would be very appreciated. Thanks.
I have always been a reflective practitioner. In other words, I ask the question “Why?” far too often. I have the inability to be completely satisfied with the learning experiences I am associated with as a learner or as an instructor. I need to understand if students are absorbing the content and transferring this knowledge to unique future experiences. Even if this trait does not make me popular with my cooperating teachers, I refuse to accept the simple and good enough but strive for something deeper.
In a Cultural Foundations of Education course that served as a prerequisite for my master’s degree, I found a professor and curriculum that asked the questions that I ask myself and beyond. These are the questions that make the traditional educator squirm and seek the comfort of the known. How are we using gender-biased language when we instruct students about mathematics? Does this curriculum reference content that is dependent on the prior knowledge gained only by wealth? Can you evaluate all students upon a normative scale when the resources each student do not reflect this normative distribution? I love these questions. They require me to reevaluate my beliefs and prior knowledge.
As I began to look deeper into these questions, I became enthralled by Paulo Frieire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Michael Apple’s concept of “official knowledge.” I began to connect many of the concepts that I found with the writing by John Dewey on democracy that served as the foundation for experiential education. I also began to reevaluate much of the fiction that I was reading through this new sense of culture. The stories of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude held greater weight when read with a critical mindset.
When the semester concluded, I began to focus more on the content of what would become a M.Ed. in Educational Technology. My career goals of becoming a university professor made this an advantageous selection because of the increasing demand for the teaching of online content. As the coursework progressed, I realized that I was evaluating the technology curriculum from a critical perspective. I began to understand that technology could provide students access to vast new amounts of information. My role as an instructor transformed from a giver of knowledge to a facilitator. I realized that the best way to empower my technology students is the same was to empower underserved students. I saw for the first time that technology is a tool that democratizes information.
With this excitement of a connection I was ready to move to the next level of scholarship but life threw me a different challenge. Twenty-two 3rd grade students wanted to put my beliefs to the test. After moving to Wyoming, I applied my undergraduate degree in the traditional format for the first time and became a “first year teacher.” Through these impressionable youths, I began the application of my pedagogy. I am proud to say that I found success with the students that I will always cherish.
The greatest challenge that I found in this traditional educational setting was the concept of the institution. A new superintendant and principal at my low-income school translated to little “official knowledge” to serve as a guide of operation. My team of teacher coped with this transition by resorting to past years of experience. This left of a void of instruction that I began to develop and mold independently. I depended on my skill to form relationships and was rewarded with teachers and specialists excited to share their knowledge.
A process that began with a prerequisite course in the foundations of education has lead to this reflection and a petition to continue to the next level. I now seek a chance to further develop my critical questions of practice into research through scholarship at the University of Oregon.
Finding my Niche at the University of Oregon
In reviewing doctoral programs with degrees focused around the continual asking of the questions I wished to ask, the Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education program stands apart for me. The first point of distinction is the sense of community that is built in the cohort structure. I value a sense of community within learning and working to the extent that I have developed and delivered curriculum on the topic. Community allows each student knows the expectations for success because of direct communication. It provides a support structure where resources are shared for mutual benefit rather than competition. I can foresee myself providing as well as accepting the benefits of my cohort.
The second aspect of value that I see within the program is the alignment of my past experiences and interests with the program faculty. Because of this broad appeal, I have difficulty selecting one individual for isolated study. I only see future resources. (Hopefully you do not object to this dehumanizing act of transformation into a resource.) I am interested to further examine the work that Jill Baxter is doing around teacher education for the elementary classroom. I see avenues for evaluating the use of technology in the classroom with Joanna Goode. The work that Ronald Beghetto is doing with teacher education aligns with my research goals below. I am also interested to reevaluate many of the problem-based learning curriculum with his work on creativity. One of my requirements for a program is an opportunity to work with Native students. I am excited that CHiXapkaid can provide this opportunity even if it may not be the focus of my study. I hope that each of the faculty can find the same component of their emphasis in my CV that I do.
Finding Myself as a Researcher
Through this program, I see my greatest potential for growth in my abilities as a researcher. The majority of my experience with research has been focused at the practitioner level. I have evaluated, reviewed and applied research in the traditional and nontraditional classroom. A unique experience occurred when I assisted a doctoral candidate at NAU, Chris Cavert with his pilot study and doctoral thesis. This gave me a brief introduction but I want to expand my research knowledge through the development of a study with a dissertation focused on the subject matter of my selection.
I am unable to provide a distinct question that I hope to research and present before a committee but I do have a mental tract that I am currently considering. I am very interested in teacher education and way that curriculum in teacher education programs is conveyed within the elementary education classroom. I wonder if the questions posed in an educational foundations course changes the practices of teachers. I hold a great interest in what is often referred to as “values”. Do participants of a teacher education program revert to their “values” when pressed into service? Too narrow and too focused is the research muddle that I hope to clear through the program coursework. My greatest hope is that I achieve a clear research topic that can be carried to a complete dissertation but also inspires a career of questions.
Finding the Future Challenges and Successes
When I examine the Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education program at the University of Oregon, I find a dedication to scholarship and community that I value. It is easy for me to draw parallels between my interests and emphasis areas of the faculty. I see a path to success for the next five years of my life. Much like the students of every classroom, I seek only the opportunity to capture this success. If given this opportunity, I will work to transform myself as a scholar, researcher and defender of equity.