Thursday, July 18, 2019

Contact Zones of Education

In 1885, Bishop John Ireland turned his dream into a reality when he founded Saint Thomas Academy. The mission of the all-male, college preparatory institution read as follows: â€Å"to help young men build a solid foundation of responsible leadership within themselves, the Academy, the Catholic Church, and the community† (Ireland). His vision has turned into one of the oldest high schools in the state of Minnesota. This idea has both of Pratt’s elements heterogeneous and homogeneous folded into one simple Academy.Having the opportunity to be educated in this somewhat unconventional style, I was introduced to a community and contact zone through my many different experiences throughout my career there. One of the most obvious attempts to create a homogeneous atmosphere associated with Saint Thomas Academy (STA), is the all male aspect forced onto the students. This style of education provides individuals with the ability to be themselves without the pressure of impressi ng a female or the self-consciousness many teenage males experience throughout their education.In other words, the all-male experience created, what Pratt refers to as a â€Å"safe house† or more specifically a â€Å"social and intellectual space(s) where groups can constitute themselves as horizontal, homogeneous, sovereign communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, temporary protection from legacies of oppression† (511). The level of trust created here is unrivaled compared to anything else I have ever experienced. The community acted as a family rather than a student body. This idea became more evident in smaller communities such as the athletic and extra circular activities.These teams were often very successful because of this unique bond created. The idea of an all-male student body did not always favor an ‘imagined community’- the term Benedict Anderson uses to describe the existence of safe houses within the academy. He expands this idea by saying â€Å"Languages were seen as living in ‘speech communities,’ and these tended to be theorized as discrete, self-defined, coherent entities, held together by homogenous competence or grammar shared identically and equally among all members† (Pratt, 507).As one might expect, students of STA carried themselves in a very different manner at school than they did on the weekends when they were interacting with females. They would change the way they dressed, talked, and even the way they would act. Similarly, students adapted to the all male environment in a similar fashion. The first couple of weeks of school for new students at STA set the foundation of the atmosphere the all-male aspect created for them to form a fraternal bond with one another. This was usually the first experience students ever encountered in their education, resulting in more of a ‘contact zone’ initially.Any new student undergoes a certain level of anxiety and se lf-doubt, but adding a completely new element, such as a same-sex community, elevates ones anxiety. Since this is one of the only high schools in the more broad community such as the city or even state in this case, the students of STA were often open for criticism by the more ‘traditional’ co-ed schools. Students were forced to learn how to block out distraction at an early age which is a benefit of this contact zone. Pratt addresses a similar benefit of contact zones in the classroom as: â€Å"the most exciting teaching we had ever done, and also the hardest.We were struck, for example, at how anomalous the formal lecture became in a contact zone† (Pratt, 510). This experience and my experience as a student at a school that was more vulnerable to criticism parallel wachother in many ways. Indeed it was difficult dealing with more distractions in high school than most students do, yet it taught be valuable lessons that I can use today. We were typically put into a completely different category than students of surrounding schools, and for that we learned to conduct ourselves in the appropriate manner. I experience this same stereotype being a member of a fraternity here on campus.We often get judged and have a negative label put on us also. I have been able to use the skills I was taught in high school to portray myself, as well as all members of our fraternity in the most positive way possible- just as we were forced to do at STA. Finally, the comfort gained from the lack of female pressure is lost upon graduation- turning this imagined community into a very dangerous contact zone. Since STA is a college preparatory academy, it is expected that students continue their education at a further level. Pratt speaks of this idea in her lecture also.She says â€Å"along with the rage, incomprehension, and pain, there were exhilarating moments of wonder and revelation, mutual understanding, and new wisdom- the joys of the contact zone† (Pr att, 511). I would say this is exactly how I would describe my experience when I began college. I was put back into a co-ed atmosphere, and forced to adapt to the expectations of a new, unfamiliar, community. Through the early months here I underwent many different incidents where I had similar feelings of Pratt’s students in the classroom- yet another comparable benefit of the ‘contact zone’ I share with Pratt.Another portion of STA’s mission includes teaching students catholic values as well as providing him with â€Å"military style† leadership skills. In some ways this reflects an imagined community in the sense that all students are taught catholic values. This provides a uniform foundation for them to develop into a successful individual. It also brings a sense of spirituality to this community- which is another element that cultivates the growth and cohesiveness between each student. Not only do students understand similar religious beliefs, they are put through a method of leadership training which includes a major military element.It parallels military training by holding all individuals to an appearance standard and teaches students effective communication skills. This sense of belonging and higher level of expectation describes an imagined community as students face challenges together and can learn from each other. This can simultaneously create a contact zone too or as Pratt might call ‘transculturation’. For instance, the students who believe in a religion other than Catholicism feel excluded and this can create a feeling of disconnect between members.At the same time these students could use this experience to learn how to express differences and effectively convey their ideas and belief’s. Students who are more timid and do not excel in leadership can often feel like they are missing out on something a majority of their classmates experience. Both examples make for great classroom discussion and for students on either end of the spectrum to perceive a situation from a new point of view. Pratt says this is necessary for continued development too.She says this while speaking of Poma’s text: â€Å"Such a text is heterogeneous on the reception end as well as the production end: it will read very differently to people in different positions in the contact zone† (506). She is supporting the underlying benefits of individuals or communities disagreeing with one another, which is the ultimate goal of a contact zone. Finally, the social groups that exist in STA prove to create an unexpected contact zone. Since it is such a unique school, many students from different backgrounds chose to attend.Because of the variety of students STA attracts, it is impossible to avoid different social groups that exist within the homogeneous community. These social groups cause a disconnect between students and at times can have a very negative impact on the student body. These imp acts can lead to a variety of actions that do not reflect the values STA hopes to instill on its students and can impact the school in a very negative way. Pratt supports the idea of a contact zone in education, but not to the extent of creating extreme conflict between students.In a way it is necessary of the imagined community to exist. For STA this means that the entire student body be held to the same standard and expectations. When too much one two groups inside this community clash too much, it creates a contact zone that has no positive impact. She describes this in her lecture by saying: â€Å"Despite whatever conflicts or systematic social differences might be in play, it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game and that the game is the same for all players† (Pratt, 508).Her message here is similar to what STA intends to instill on its students, that is, when conflict occurs in the right environment- it can be positive and provide opportunity for growth. Through my experience at this unconventional school, I have encountered contact zones existing in or with an imagined community. When practiced in a specific manner, these two ideas have the ability to coexist and positively impact a situation. When a contact zone becomes unmanageable, the result is mostly negative and can hinder the growth of a group of people or an individual.

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