Imagine that you are a veteran academic, studied and versed in theories of teaching, learning and education and are given the opportunity to implement your accumulated knowledge in a special class of “at-risk” students in an inner city school (actually, a few hundred yards down the road from your beautiful college campus, and at the backyard of one of the city’s best magnet schools).
Your journey begins as you pass through metal detectors at the school entrance; from there you are escorted by a (very big and tall) city policeman to the office, where you are given another escort down the closed off hallway where the classroom is located. There you find a guard sitting outside who unlocks the door to let you in to a class of 15 young men and 1 young woman ages 14-16, all either African American or Hispanic. In the classroom with you at all times are the 2 classroom teachers who have worked with these 9th grade students for the past 2 months.
The students are locked into this room for the duration of the school day (bathroom is 5 steps across the hall in front of the guard) because they have come to high school with few or no credits and have been known to be disruptive or to have had behavior issues in the past. In addition, the school is measured by graduation numbers and if the students are given freedom, they will most probably leave school to the detriment of the necessary statistics. Hence, they are “warehoused” for as long as the school can keep them in.
What’s the first step? Of course, getting to know the students, letting them know that you care, that you believe in them, that you think they can learn like anyone else (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, etc.)… But can they? What if they can’t and don’t because they haven’t slept or eaten before coming to school? What if they know they are going to be suspended by next period because they talked back to the assistant principal who happens also to be their math teacher and who thinks they ought to be locked up “like animals”? What if they just came off the subway after riding to school for over 2 hours because they fled with their mother to a shelter in another town but the system never got around to arranging an alternative, closer school? What if someone just “snitched” about abuse going on in their home and they are waiting to be called by the social worker to be placed in foster care, out of which they had come just a year earlier…
Where would you begin? What would you say? How would you teach? And even more crucial – what would the purpose of any teaching be?

Why teach? Teach what?

What is our ultimate purpose as teachers? My student teachers usually say that they have become teachers “to help kids learn”, but what does this really mean and how does it align with the grind of daily practice in most schools today?
Freire talked about our own agency as teachers to promote action toward raising agency of oppressed populations. This is to be carried out through the teaching of critically reading the world and the word leading to the transformation of the world into a better place. What is a “better place”? I believe it is a place where a person is empowered to realize their sense of agency in transforming their own lives and in so doing, positively impacting the lives of others around them.
Upon reaching intense frustration as a special education teacher I set out on a metaphorical journey seeking this sense of agency for myself and the students I taught. Traveling for years through a maze of theory and practice sometimes along pre-cut paths, I got lost in forests, stuck in deep valleys of prejudice and sclerotic thinking, often reaching moderate and higher peaks that allowed me to see a greater picture of where I’d been, what lay before me, recognizing possible paths I could take or cut for myself.
The field of Literacy Studies provided such a peak with a view of possibilities grounded in critical theories and the understanding that literacy is not universal but a relative and situated concept. This understanding allows one to become aware of, respect and work productively within human diversity, based on a critical reading of our surroundings and the texts supporting them. Literacy studies highlight the ideas, * that culture is integral to learning and that there are multiple literacies and multiple values of those literacies; * that every human being is literate (not necessarily in reading and writing the canon) and able to achieve in their areas of strength at certain times and places; * that learning must come from the learner and it is our responsibility as teachers to provide the conditions for motivation and engagement to ensue; * that the environment and context of the literacy experience are paramount for the success of that experience; * that our humanity is reflected in stories that need to be told and listened to before we can open up to learning together and that learning is about what connects us to the world and to one another rather than what divides us.
Most significantly I learned that “teaching” was really about learning: * that if there was no learning, any teaching style or effort were worthless; * that the teacher’s job was to create an environment for learners to be able to learn in the classroom or any other teaching/learning situation, facilitating the students’ own learning processes; * that we can’t force anyone to learn (tests, grades, punishments…) nor can we stop any person’s natural curiosity to learn continuously throughout their lives whatever is relevant and of interest to them; * that teaching and learning must go respectfully both ways between teachers and students in order for a safe and authentic learning space to be established and for learning to flourish; * that learners must be shown their own powers for learning and growing their minds and be coached on how to appropriate these powers in pursuit of their own learning journeys and goals.
Yet, in our complex world another most important element must coexist for learning to proceed at its best: the learner sensing her freedom to act and interact with the world around her in ways assessed by others to be normatively competent. In specific situations where some identities and some interactions are deemed non-normative or unworthy, these individuals cannot act freely or learn. And this brings us back to the classroom described in the opening of this paper.

Language and cages
It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.
J. C. Watts

The students in my class were not free to learn in school. They were trapped in cages of metaphors and in language generated by stories about them that others crafted, told and propagated. These socially normalized stories – which the students learned to own and whose purpose was circumscribing and maintaining social hierarchies and margins, imposed outward invisibility while damaging identities internally. Differences from mainstream society were highlighted and construed as matters of shame rather than pride, limiting the students’ identification narratives to negatives: behavior and/or learning “dis”abled, in lock-down classrooms, “having records” (lawlessness/prison language), missing credits, lacking discipline, living in poverty- experiencing scarcity along material, emotional, security, stability lines, being “bad”…
One morning a student I hadn’t seen before appeared in the classroom and took a seat by the wall where he hung his head, trying to become invisible. When the rest of the students began their projects, I pulled up a chair in order to open communications with him. All I managed to say was “Hi, I’m Elite, what is your name…”, he turned his gaze, looked straight at me and said “Miss, you don’t want to know who I am. I’m bad”. He turned his head away.
Negative vocabulary engulfed the students’ lives and the lives of people around them to the point that without some kind of critical rescripting process of accessing agency and personal powers of transformation, other possibilities of being were essentially unimaginable. These kids were stuck feeling unable and unworthy members of a grand society that was moving and going places without them while the forms and content of social capital that they brought to the classroom were devalued and/or excluded.
Where did this metaphoric compendium come from? Probably from sloth associated with the strength and efforts necessary for letting go and replacing old ideas and habits, or maybe just from giving up on the sluggish, stubborn system that seems to function with a life of its own, regardless of the children or anyone’s attempts to take it on. Jackson (1999) wrote about the institutionalized phenomenon she called “dysconscious racism” that is anchored in the safety of home-base where we can remain blanketed in the ideology of our privileged position, not required to take the risk of challenging this discriminatory ideology. And still we retain the social capital:
To dispel prejudicial myths that fuel discriminatory behavior requires hard work. It is easier to form an opinion based on the way others have operated in the past. We justify our behavior under the guise of tradition, customs, and culture. For those in a privileged position, making decisions based on deeply structured, firmly ingrained, culturally supported, inter¬nalized notions about the “other” makes one comfort¬able in one’s own position in the social hierarchy (pg. 15).

Carroll (2009) would add to this our most human propensity to unconsciously and unreflectively lie to ourselves and live in pretense – which has a psychologically soothing effect, keeping out of our awareness “what we do not want to know” (pg. 43).
Lori Neilsen (1997) describes three generative, “impossible metaphors” at the root of much of our education system, metaphors that blind us to the consistent disfunctioning of the system for “some” groups of students. The use of these metaphors both creates the marginalized casualties on the fringes of the system and at the same time, provides “solutions” to the harm they are understood to generate.
The first metaphor is an industrial, mechanical approach in which literacy is believed to be achieved through learning perfectible sub-skills based on sequenced instructions, as students strive for competence that is definable, measurable, autonomous and pan-contextual. Those who are not able to keep up or thrive in such an environment are labeled deficient and sent to a learning space where everything is slowed down, cut into tiny slices and delivered in a loud voice.
The second metaphor is medical assigning “health” to “normal”, standardized, compliant behavior while learning to read and write (i.e. in school), and “illness” and treatments for those in need of “remediation” due to divergent or aberrant behavior, again, in school. The 3rd metaphor generating margins in schools while feigning attempts to provide the solutions is the training metaphor “…where children, like caged animals, learn to press the right buttons to receive their reward… assuming cause and effect, and a dangerous linearity, instrumental utility and predictability” (Neilsen,1997, pg.204). For those who can’t mimic or parrot, different punishments are meted out that have nothing to do with learning and everything to do with pushing the kids back in line, out the door or into “the pipeline”.
If Donald Schön (1995) had to nominate a single most obnoxious metaphor in education, he said it would be “covering the curriculum” – a metaphor that welds great power over teachers and their superiors because teachers are judged on the basis of “having covered…” But what does “covering” knowledge even mean, Schön asks, and what is a student doing/getting/learning (etc.) when a teacher “covers material”? How does the teacher know what a student has made of what “was covered”? And if a teacher tests the kids and finds out that they are thoroughly confused, what does he/she do then? Continue “covering”? (Schön, 1995, pg. 15-16).

Rethinking metaphors
I knew that all the students could learn, but after years of being beaten down in schools, excluded from the discourse, their social and cultural capital disvalued, they didn’t realize their potential powers in this setting. To point them the way we (with a co-teacher) began by setting up a safe space founded on stories and storytelling. The concept had two goals – the first was to have a space where voices could safely rise and stories be shared, creating a sense, at least in our small site, of respect and acceptance. The second was using personal stories to begin opening possibilities of changing the students’ use of language and metaphors from oppression to agency toward more just and equitable worlds, societies, schools (McKerracher & Hasebe-Ludt, 2014).

I. Creating a linguistic safe space of inclusive belonging
Reflection is a tool that can be used to open up restrictive and limiting metaphors which shut us in places of narrow possibilities. Reflection-in-action, -on-action and –on-reflection (Schön, 1995) are personal processes that provide keys to doors of potential promise, doors that are traditionally, culturally and historically locked to disenfranchised individuals and groups. According to Schön & Rein (1994), language use, webs of belief and behaviors connected to a “common sense” view of daily life are generative metaphorical frameworks that often limit our interpretation of reality and might lead to “frame-induced blindness” to other options and possibilities. In his critical approach, Rorty (1999) builds on this writing about our rights and power to examine limiting metaphors if we find that they are intensifying the suffering in our lives, to and change them where necessary for increasing pleasure, goodness and hope. Since we are the ones who initially created the metaphorical/linguistic connections and they are not “written in stone” anywhere, we have the power and moral authority to change them. Rorty (1989) goes farther suggesting that we can recreate ourselves to be the best selves that we want to be through a process of self-knowledge and imagining new metaphors couched in a different and better vocabulary than the normative one at hand.
Reflect, for example, on our beliefs and the language use related to the idea that there are actually “learning ‘dis’abled” kids in the world that need to be “remediated” and fixed in order to fit into normative society through interventions such as ‘special’ education procedures, medication, psychological counseling, punishment… Since it is us who created this metaphor, we could just as easily change it to point out ‘differently-able’ students who bring to the mix wonderful abilities – that may not include reading books and writing 5 paragraph- essays, however, but rather other kinesthetic, environmental, ethical, musical, inter- or intrapersonal abilities that are the bedrock of our culture and relationships, both human and with the planet.
Every one of us is valuable and should be considered a participating thread in the weave of the social fabric. Through reflection and critical thinking we can float this idea that “each one of us is differently able” with potential for enriching human society through exercising actions, ideas, abilities, passions and cares. Consider people like Arthur Wynne who created the first crossword puzzle for a newspaper in 1913, Fannie Farmer who pioneered standardized recipe measurements at the end of the 19th century, Joe McVicker who created play-doh in 1955, Anton Stepanov who helped develop “sign language interpretation gloves” that can be read by an app “translating” what the signer is saying, Clive Campbell (a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc) who invented hip-hop in the Bronx in 1973, or Tenzing Norgay who helped Sir Edmund Hillary in his climb up Mt. Everest. Even the drunks and drug addicts sleeping in the park would be included since they indicate the fringes of our systems where social complexities and challenges lay bare. Our lives would not be as rich without them.
Reflection can expose obstacles to thought and practice yet may just as often produce affordances – spaces of creativity that were not obvious to us in the past. In the nooks and crannies of these affordances – some of which are purely linguistic (e.g. what do “success/failure”, “ability/ disability” mean and who determines these meanings?) lie the opportunities of finding new solutions, different patterns of possible behaviors and diverse horizons to pursue. Consider one such example: the U.S. government changed the negative label of “disabled veteran” to a more socially uplifting “wounded warrior” – a small linguistic tweak profoundly changing the metaphor and opening new possibilities of empowered being (Messinger, 2014).

II. Storytelling: From bondage to opportunity

Reflection indicated the power of storytelling yet also some formidable challenges as to why these children would even want to tell us their stories, being enveloped as they were in a crushing systematic deficit approach:
1. Theirs were stories of loss and failure compared to the fabulous stories of Heroes and Heroines like President Obama, Beyonce, Lebron James or Jennifer Lopez. They could dream about these people but they had only a miniscule chance of getting even close.
2. They understood early on that their personal stories didn’t matter because no one ever asked to listen to them; curriculums did not include stories similar to theirs; their lives and experiences were transparent to the system. Some of this sentiment has finally bubbled to the surface, however, in response to recent killings of innocent Black men by police and the creation of a new generative metaphor of “Black lives matter” through which stories from these communities are surfacing and finding central positions.
3. The way we – representing “the education system” – requested and required they tell their stories was not the way they wanted to do it, not the way they told their stories to their friends. We (“the system”) were imposing our cultural rules and concepts on them: linearity, for example, Standard language use, or “goals” that came from our hegemonious lists and lives.
4. And they learned through experience that the little they could be proud of was not necessarily something anyone outside close family or friends wanted to hear. (Byron lived alone with his mother who had Multiple Sclerosis. Many days he had to miss school to care for her and take her to doctors. He was an amazingly devoted child, yet was repeatedly punished for not keeping up with school work. Some of his punishments were 3 day suspensions so he missed even more school and after 3 days at home his mom had to come in to promise that Byron would come to school and do his work…)
However, stories were the way to go – what kind of stories and how to get to where we wanted, necessitated further thought. The first story concept that came to mind was the primordial myth of “A Hero’s Journey” which underlies many of our traditional and beloved cultural treasures from lore to books to movies and computer games. These are stories of regular people who, with outside/ divine help are always victorious in their quests, bettering the lives of others through their achievements… Yet, on further reflection, I thought that this metaphor – of one “chosen” hero with super-powers up against a monumental challenge who ends up winning and getting all the concrete or metaphoric gold (e.g. “Magic” Johnson) – had perhaps been an element in the perpetuation of these students’ marginalization and disenfranchisement. If they came to realize that the only way out was to be providentially chosen by the gods of possibilities (e.g. sports recruiters), they were placing their bets on chances that were in reality miniscule, while alternative horizons were either unknown or seemed unavailable or unattainable.
Additionally, if we can agree that the ultimate underlying goal of all living agents is the drive for fitness – “the general ability to survive, grow and reproduce within a certain environment” (Heyligen, 2011, pg. 7), then for us humans this concept of fitness means the search for benefit, happiness or utility. We ascend on our paths toward fitness using diverse combinations of strategies to access various resources “…which may include hunting, gathering, agriculture, trade, production of goods…gathering knowledge, striving for political power and even prostituting oneself” (ibid. pg. 8). Never one size/path/resource/utility or goal to fit all, while Campbell’s primordial model is a one-size linear pattern focused on the pre-determined outcomes/products appropriate for some, but exclusive of most.
In an imaginary world paralleling our everyday one, some lucky person who can be a warrior like Odysseus or alternatively, a socioculturally adopted ideal image of someone strong, handsome, smart, rich, etc. (think of celebrity movie stars or entertainers), achieves greatness as measured against a contextualized ideal, cultural norm and/or social standard (e.g. marries the princess and becomes king…), always wining against the toughest foes and returning home stronger/smarter/ richer than the person who first left, ending up with inordinate amounts of social and/or economic capital (think Cinderella even in all of its cross-cultural tellings).
This model simplifies life stories into predictable journeys ending with victory of the good and the just over threatening and scary evil forces. But this “feel-good” type of story (living happily-ever-after in a castle with a prince/ss) is a specific culturally normalized/romanticized view of happiness (Do I want to marry a rich, handsome, “prince”? Do I have to subscribe to other peoples’ ideas of utility and benefit? Do I have my own needs and goals?) simplifying complex and dynamic processes and providing a false and unreflective sense of possibility. At a certain age we all realize that we have our own trajectories and that a fairy godmother will most probably not turn up to change anyone’s pumpkin into a carriage and that the one imaginary Hero wielding super-human powers cannot much help a struggling reader in school; cannot provide a woman living in poverty a sense of possibilities; cannot point each and every one of us towards a viable horizon. These stories do not relate to the majority of us either in their processes or their outcomes as we continue to face our mundane struggles and challenges.

III. Counterstories
Another possibility of storytelling was of personal counterstories, focusing on the vernacular and on positive identity development as alternatives to knowledge that is dominant, privileged and exclusionary of the culturally disenfranchised. Such stories “… take up a shared but oppressive understanding of who someone is and sets out to shift it”, allowing the “reidentified” persons to see themselves and for others to see them as worthy of moral respect (Nelson, 2001, 69). Counterstories provide an opening into agency especially for those not included in the dominant canon, serving as tools for repairing damage inflicted on identities of members of disenfranchised groups by abusive systems of power and control. If identities are narratively constructed and can be narratively damaged, we can imagine ways of repairing them through the use of stories that “…reidentify such people as competent members of the moral community and in doing so enable their moral agency” (Nelson, 2001, xiii).
Personal counterstories work on two levels – they can replace the degrading social narrative/image of the disenfranchised group as a whole while also affording agency and worth to the teller herself, because in a counterstory every one can be a hero/ine.

In the search for possibilities for my “special” students I questioned our habitual restrictive metaphorical frameworks. I re-envisioned and rethought heroism, appropriated critical and mindful language, remixed the original “Hero’s” myth and created a process formulated on the concept of a journey for any person challenged by a quest and willing to set out towards the possibilities of what she is not yet and could become. It is a reflective dialectical process of planning and acting in the name of achieving personal goals and self-empowerment.
Embarking on this universal, repetitive pattern of a journey-on-a-quest allows individuals to become heroes/agents in their own lives, irrespective of context or the ultimate outcome, as they shoulder the responsibility for finding the route and resources to their own fitness. The pattern proceeds through situated cycles of planning, action, reflection and correction, growing the mind and widening the boundaries of awareness regarding possibilities of being and of change.
The vocabulary chosen to describe A journey of a hero/ine allows for all of us to be heroes in our own stories; for all of us to know that we are able to achieve agency and navigate our lives towards less suffering and more goodness and hope, toward our own relevant, reachable goals and benefits; for each and every one of us to realize that we are endowed with powers that could help us reach a goal we choose with the ability to change course at any point; to learn that when we achieve a goal we have set for ourselves, we become empowered and charged to set out for the next quest, to climb the next summit.
So this is the beginning:
Everyone is;
Everyone is a hero/heroine;
Everyone is a hero/heroine in their own story.

Sidestepping the generic and condescending “everyone can” (…strive to be a Super-Hero) language, we reconceived an ubiquitous hero within a new metaphoric framework in which every one of us can do different things and/or in different ways and/or at different times (for better or for worse) by leveraging our unique abilities and talents.

Hand / Wislawa Szymborska

Twenty seven bones
Thirty five muscles
About two thousand nerve cells
In each of the five tips of our fingers.
That suffices
To write “Mein Kampf”
Or “House at Pooh Corner”.

A JOURNEY of a hero/ine pattern

A JOURNEY of a hero/ine is a pattern of movement describing the processes of searching for solutions to problems in daily life: A person leaves her comfort zone in search for a solution to a real, everyday problem. On her way towards her goal she faces diversions: disturbances (obstacles, dangers, problems) and affordances (resources, opportunities) which she can respond to (overcome, circumvent, take advantage of). Using internal strengths and outside help, the person reaches her goal (or a reconceptualization of the original goal) and comes back to her comfort zone to reflect, recharge and reach out before leaving on the next journey. The process is personal and involves a dynamic looping of step (action)-reflection-correction-step (action)… in a continuous search for affordances while adjusting/correcting for missteps and reflecting upon the action and upon the reflection process itself.

A JOURNEY of a hero/ine template can be used for the purpose of constructing personal stories of journeys leading to identity reconstruction and strengthening, to feelings of self worth, self-empowerment and maximizing fitness. The pattern supports individuals as they –
1. Choose a goal
2. Plan the way forward, by
2.1 Establishing a present starting point including all the available resources: physical, mental, emotional, material and situational – Who am I? and an Appreciative Inquiry stance;
2.2 Foreseeing likely obstacles on the way and strategizing possible interventions.
3. Set out in a step-reflection-correction (or not)-reflection-step… looping process, making the path by walking, mediating and negotiating the obstacles, taking advantage of affordances and correcting for missteps and, possibly, changing the goal or its scope on the way.
4. Reach the goal and become heroes/heroines in their own eyes (and probably leaders in the eyes of those close to them). Success will most probably lead to setting out on another journey very soon after completion of the former. This dynamic creates life energies for the individual and although they are being used for pursuing personal goals, brings the world around them to life in the process.
5. Choose another goal …

Our heroes and heroines are “regular mortals” like you and me; we leave home to deal with a challenge, to achieve a goal, small or large (getting to school on time or practicing for a marathon); we are faced with obstacles (the “fire-breathing dragons”- went to sleep too late last night) on our way and have to decide whether to confront them and how; We pause to evaluate our internal resources – strengths, abilities, passions (one more lateness and I will be suspended which will upset mom) and external resources that are available to support our efforts (mentors, information sources, technical help, a friend) and use them to overcome the obstacle/s in our way (asking a friend to wake me up and not leave until I do). Having achieved our original goal or one adjusted on the way (“I will try first for half a marathon”), we return to home base as heroes: we have used inner and external resources to deal with a challenge that was important to us and these experiences have expanded our mind and the belief in our abilities. By sharing our journey details with peers or others who may be interested, we become leaders and coaches in the specific course and in taking the risk of embarking on a journey in general. We are now ready to leave again to conquer the next mountain with better knowledge and understanding of the resources we can use and the necessary process of engagement.

How and why the pattern works

Life is not about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself.

The template of A JOURNEY of a hero/ine calls us to float the deepest common denominator of our humanity – our stories. This pattern introduces an alternative empowering journey metaphor to our routine habitus and daily struggles. It points to an open path each and every one of us can embark on again and again, beginning every morning anew or several times a day, or even on that one big journey we have always wished to take. In order to begin we need no one and nothing outside of ourselves – only a resolve to change something in our lives that could transport us to a point of less pain and more happiness. The change can be anything that will get us to feel more competent, more in control of our circumstances, more able to steer our own lives, and can be advantageous for an incarcerated person as for a CEO of a company or a high school student. It is an inclusive template, innocent of context and content, ready and able to incorporate any story, any struggle, any goal.
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters/ Portia Nelson

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

The JOURNEY template can be also used for group stories in the service of raising social voice: “Storytelling has always held particular importance for women and other “silenced” minority groups who have had to rely on oral traditions to transmit knowledge, establish continuity, and share information, sometimes even dangerous or subversive information (Goering, 1996, 47). We can tell our group stories which acquire significance in situations of uncertainty where previous structures or metaphors no longer suffice to support the special needs of group members. Such tellings can raise social awareness of issues as well as appropriate support for those whose stories are told.

One afternoon at the recovery house our topic was sharing experiences with the group to teach others what we have already learned. Maria talked about her search for a cashier position and how she had just received a call-back for a second interview which she hoped indicated that she had gotten the job (she did). Maria described her behavior, language use and the way she dressed for the interviews and she detailed what she thought helped or hindered her in the different situations. The other women, myself included, reflected and responded with questions and with their own stories about job searches.
Then it was Keesha’s turn to share. She was lying across the bed facing the wall to which she said, “I have nothing to teach anyone. My story is bad”. I begged to differ, telling her that I know she managed a prostitution ring for several years and had done well for herself and for the women working for her. Keesha turned and gave me an incredulous look as if to say, “do you want me to share that!? What are you talking about!?” So I continued explaining that as I see it, she had been a business woman who managed a sort of company with human and monetary resources…for several years she had made a good name for herself in the prostitution circles by treating the women well and defending them from those who tried to prey on them… This was a metaphor change for Keesha and for the other participants who were used to being judged and criticized by others who thought themselves to be in a superior position compared to the “women of the streets”.
My question became more focused: what were the ideas and actions you carried out to create and sustain your business? And Keesha got it. She sat up and began talking, facing the other women and sharing her story.

Although the template can be filled with any description of any journey, it will always be about a hero/ine in the sense that the journey I take grows my experience and my mind to better understand myself, the world around me and to be better equipped to set out on the next journey for the next goal – even if a specific goal has eluded me. A space opens up here for constructive criticism in the form of reflections on what went well and what did not serve me as well – the results of which are added to my resources for the next journey. The journey is dynamic, evolving and changing (like life) yet the facts are there for me to reflect on and arrange in a manner that will highlight my achievements. For example, if I was working to get to school on time and succeeded for 3 days and then failed on the 4th day…by reflecting on what caused me to lose the momentum on that last day, I can still tell my story as a victory – “got to school on time for 3 days straight! Although on the 3rd night I went to sleep too late and couldn’t bring myself to get up… but I felt bad about falling back into lateness and now I am redoubled in my resolve to stay the course for 4 days straight!”
There is no failure in A JOURNEY of a hero/ine,
no external condescending criticism,
only learning and growth.


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Goering, E. M. (Spring 1996). For yours is the power in the story: The empowerment of women organizational actors through storytelling. Women and Language, Vol. 19(1), 47-52.
Heyligen, F. (25/3/11). Life is adventure! An agent-based reconciliation of narrative and scientific worldviews. Accessed at http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/papers/Life-Adventure.pdf
Jackson, F. (1999). The Impact of “Dysconscious Racism”. Multicultural Perspectives, 1(4), 15-18
McKerracher, A. & Hasebe-Ludt, E. (2014). Life Writing, Literature, and Curriculum as
Artful Cosmopolitan Encounters. Canadian Review of Art Education: Research and Issues, 41(1), 117-133.
Messinger, S.D. (2014). Wounded Warriors: The State, Healthcare, and Citizenship. Paper presented at Medicine and the State Panel, AAA 2014. Accessed at: https://www.academia.edu/10967278/Wounded_Warriors_The_State_Healthcare_and_Citizenship
Neilsen, L. (1997). Remaking sense, reshaping inquiry: Feminist metaphors and a literacy of the possible. In James Flood, Shirley Brice Heath &Diane Lapp (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative and visual arts.1997. IRA.
Nelson, H. L. (2001). Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair. Cornell University Press.
Rorty, R. (1999). Philosophy and Social Hope. London, UK: Penguin Books.
Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge University Press.
Schön, D. A. (1995). Reflective Practice: Its implications for classroom, administration and research. A public lecture given for the Dept. of Language, Literacy & Arts Education at the University of Melbourne. Accessed at http://www.uni.edu/~eastk/109/sp08/270905.pdf
Schön, D. A. & Rein, M.(1994). Frame Reflection: Toward the resolution of Intractable Policy Controversies. New York, NY: Basic Books

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Word-Slam Stories as Venues for Stimulating Learning and Developing Agency with Urban High School Students

With Limor Pinhasi-Vittorio, Ph.D.

Word-slam was used with our high school urban students as instrument and method to elicit engagement with learning and develop agency through personal storytelling. The word-slam text (as it appears on YouTube and in hard-copy format as well) was chosen due to its being a personal story (of which we are all experts), an alternative, artistic and critical form of text that our students could relate to directly as the format and content were relevant to their lives and experiences. By using the text as a mentor text and studying the author’s craft together, students were able to write, rewrite and develop their own word-slam stories, carving out a space for themselves to be seen and heard.
Keywords: Word-Slam, Urban Youth, High School, Engaged Learning, Personal Stories, Agency

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I have come to learn about an exciting, cutting edge teaching/learning site called HASTAC (anyone can join)


In it I found a blog regarding a lecture given by Professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on “The Invention of Failure.” Where she reflected on the industrial approach to education as the source of our frustrating success/failure concepts and the constricting, counter-intelligent grading systems in our schools – a system that I always have found as limiting thought, risk-taking, and actual learning in the classroom.
Richard Rorty taught us that the concept we use are not written in stone anywhere but are our own creations and they can easily be changed when they cause more pain than happiness.
Can we begin a discussion about creating classrooms where learning and not grades is the focus? Can we find ways of creating learning spaces in our classrooms where everyone succeeds? At different aspects of learning…at different subtopics… at different approaches to learning as a social act?
In my classes I give every student an A on the first day. From that point on all they each have to do is hold on to that A by putting in thought and work. They have the right to do less work and put in less thought when their life circumstances are overwhelming (we are all only human) – they grade themselves at the end of the semester (in a letter to me) and if I agree with their evaluation, that is the grade they receive, or if not, we discuss…
Imagine how great it is for the teacher (me) not having to give tests, grade on a curve, give 20 page papers… The students work on projects, individually and in groups and their work is evaluated for content and understanding with (if necessary) opportunities to rewrite, rework, rethink, learn from others and succeed.
Learning is something only a learner can do so by teaching about reflective practice, we can bring our students to a proactive place where they will both take responsibility for their own learning and learn to evaluate it – a tool for real life.

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An amazing woman is characterized in the media by her (plain-ness of) facial features and her (over) weight

The Thorn Birds author Colleen McCullough dies on Norfolk Island

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”


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