My name is Jo Foy and I am a graduate student in Curriculum & instruction at Kansas State University. My title today is “I See You Now: Changes in the Landscape of Truth-Telling as a Result of the Obama Presidency.” This is a condensed version of a presentation at the AAACS (American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies) annual conference in Denver at the end of April. Three events occurred in 2009 that caught my eye: (1) the incident with Dr. Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, Massachusetts; (2) the premier of the sitcom “Sherri” on Lifetime TV with Sherri Shepherd of “The View” as the producer and star; and (3) the limited distribution of the award-winning independent film, “Precious”, through a collaboration between Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. I claim that each of these events builds upon the theme of Hope from the Obama campaign.
During Soledad O’Brien’s interview with Dr. Gates for a segment of Black in America 2, Dr. Gates explained about the police officer in Cambridge. Gates said that the Sergeant asked him for his identification at the door, but when Dr. Gates reached his kitchen where his wallet was on the counter, the officer had followed him into his home. This was a clear violation of his privacy. “It looked like a police convention out there,” said Dr. Gates. In this interview Gates gives the viewer details that were left out of the police report. He tells a different truth. In the “Birth” episode of Sherri Shepherd’s new sitcom on Lifetime TV, the mistress of Sherri’s estranged husband goes into labor in her apartment as Sherri and her friends are leaving to go play tennis. They all end up at the hospital with Paula’s bigoted, racist mother played by Jane Curtin. However, by the end of the episode we see Sherri as the character who has joined all of these people together, even the new baby, into an extended family. “Sherri” portrays a Hopeful image of African-American women as caretakers and family-makers.
“ Precious” is the story of a Harlem teenager pregnant by her father for the second time. Claireece Precious Jones is 16 years old, obese, virtually illiterate, and expelled from her middle school by the White female principal. Her story is Hopeful because by the end of the movie, although she is still only 17 years old, she has both of her children, she is living independently from her mother, she is reading and writing at the 6th grade level, she is ready to attend high school, and she intends to go to college.
The election of President Obama, I claim, seems to have changed the landscape of what can be said by both African-Americans and by Whites. As a White female, I would have thought that having a man of color holding the highest political office in the land would send a message of empowerment like no other. However, when I discussed this idea with one of my African-American colleagues, I found that the phenomena I am observing is much more complicated.
Even though I, as an older White female, have noticed these events and believe that I am hearing a new kind of “truth” for the first time, what my African-American colleague proposed is that African-American voices are coming out into the open. What I perceive as an “opening up” of communication is what my African-American colleague describes as “bringing into the light” (B. Stoney, personal communication, February 3, 2010). What we learn from Claireece Precious Jones and her mother, Mary Johnston, in the movie about intergenerational poverty and incest are dangerous truths: a dangerous truth being one which does not conform to the dominant ideology. In addition, my African-American colleague and I both have noticed that racist remarks are on the rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate crimes particularly in the Southern states, increased significantly right after the election (Strange, 2008). Perhaps White racists feel like they can say out loud what was once said in private.
In this presentation I will use Foucault to make meaning of intersecting landscapes: the social or cultural one I have just described as a result of the election of President Obama, and the educational one which “Precious” the movie forces us to define more carefully. In Denver during my presentation I showed a 5 minute movie made from charts and graphs of statistical data to the create the following landscape of U.S. education.
The landscape of U.S. Education today is that approximately 5 out of ten students in classrooms look like (and *may* have similar home lives) to their middle class White female teachers. Another 2 students out of ten are either Black or American Indian and living in poverty. A small percentage are Asian, Hawaiian Native or Pacific Islander. And the remaining students, approximately 3 out of ten students are Hispanic (which is a very large umbrella term) and living in poverty. If my math is correct, somewhere between 3 and 7 out of ten students are living in poverty and are non-White with a middle class teacher who is a White female. This disparity is important because non-White students may be English language learners, they may have different learning styles from White students, and they may come to school with the knowledge that generations of their own family members have been failed by the public school systems in the United States.
Foucault’s ideas and points of view are used in education research because educational institutions (schools, colleges, and universities) are similar to prisons and mental institutions in the constant surveillance upon both students and teachers by administrators; and the oversight by superintendents and governmental agencies upon public systems of schooling. Education is a knowledge enterprise steeped in power relations and for students who are not the White majority, classrooms are significant loci of resistance. Knowledge, power and self were Foucault’s primary interests. He claimed that knowledge and power are intertwined. Since power is everywhere, knowledge resides in a particular place and a particular time. Later in his life he reviewed the Greek philosophers and came to believe that an ethic of “care for self” was essential to the maintenance of a free subjectivity.
Let’s see if we can tie Foucault’s knowledge, subject, and power back into “Precious” the movie. Claireece Precious Jones is at the effect of the daily psychological and physical assaults from her mother, the White school principal who expelled her, and the sexual abuse perpetrated by both her mother and her stepfather, Carl Jones. Yet, she persists. She improves her reading and writing and becomes independent of her mother with the help of her teacher (played by Paula Patton) at the alternative school, Each One Teach One. When Claireece tells the truth about her family situation to the social worker (played by Mariah Carey), it is not a truth we necessarily want to hear. It does not conform to the dominant beliefs, “Keep quiet”, “deny anything is wrong.”
When the mother tells the truth to the social worker, Claireece is freed, although the truth of Mary Johnston’s complicity with Carl Jones is also not a truth we want to hear in the dominant White culture, where the messages are silence, never admitting culpability, and “be a good girl.” Yet this truth is not a truth that African-Americans want to hear either. With the election of President Obama, however, African-American society endures this truth. It isn’t the truth of the Cosby Show, but it is a truth within American society. As Mo’Nique said on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, “This is a universal story.”
At the end of this movie Claireece has more than just a “fat, black, welfare, pregnant-teen subjectivity” (J. M. Ray, February 6, 2010). If we look at some of Foucault’s later writings, he suggests that care of self actually produces the subject, and “Precious”, the movie exemplifies this idea. Foucault proposes that we are each subjects within specific power relations and within those specific contexts, we are free. However, in the case of Claireece Precious Jones, her care for herself, through improving her reading, journaling, taking full responsibility for her children, becoming independent, and becoming motivated to finish high school and attend college, she transforms herself into a new subject. This transformation then also becomes an ethical response to her dilemma and an act of resistance to the many power relations still barring her way.
To summarize, I see a social and cultural landscape shifting where racial issues are being brought into the Light. I also see the educational landscape in crisis for White female teachers. “Precious” the movie offers a counter-example that might be used in classrooms, along with the book, “Push” to examine dominant beliefs about African-American girls and women. The counter message is that Claireece Precious Jones has Hope. Like the students at Morehouse, there are no excuses. She is choosing to forsake the Welfare system, to take full responsibility for her children, to complete high school and go onto college. At this point in my Denver presentation I showed the most popular trailer for the movie with interviews added from Oprah, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Gabby Sidibe.
Claireece Precious Jones is the stereotypical Black girl being left behind by the U.S. educational system. If you cannot read, you cannot even take a standardized reading test. Precious was being passed from each school grade with high marks. She was not learning. The Hope and the Joy of this movie comes from the possibility, as Oprah suggests, that even one Precious Black girl sees herself in Claireece Precious Jones. Thank you.
EDCI 831 Final Presentation (condensed version of AAACS)
I See You Now Changes in the Landscape of Truth-Telling as a Result of the Obama Presidency
Three events in 2009 <ul><li>Dr. Henry Louis Gates </li></ul><ul><li>“Sherri” </li></ul><ul><li>“Precious” </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Questions to consider: <ul><li>Would any of these examples have stood out in 2007? </li></ul><ul><li>Would these stories have been presented differently in 2007? </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Observations <ul><li>Speaking out </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Telling the “truth” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dangerous truths </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Racist remarks </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Landscapes to consider <ul><li>Social or cultural </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Shifts as a result of the Obama presidency </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Educational </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What does education look like today? </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver 83.5% White female teachers ($53,000/yr) 33-73% White students (shrinking) (9% in poverty) 13-47% Hispanic students (expanding) (15% in poverty) 3% Asian/Pacific Islander 0.4-2% American Indian/Alaskan Native (25% in poverty) 10-16% Black students (25% in poverty) Today’s Landscape of U.S. Education
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) <ul><li>Knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Power </li></ul><ul><li>Self </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Michel Foucault <ul><li>Knowledge (truth) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Involves discourse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Practices, techniques or rules that concern the speaking subject, power relations and the words themselves (Simola et al., 1998) </li></ul></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Michel Foucault <ul><li>Truth becomes not only about knowledge (discourse or discursive formations) but also about the individual (the subject) </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Michel Foucault <ul><li>Subjectivity </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A person is made into a subject through affiliation (or disaffiliation) as in “the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the criminals and the ‘good boys’” (2003, p. 126) </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Michel Foucault <ul><li>Liberation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“the individual is not something that needs to be liberated rather the individual is the closely monitored product of relations between power and knowledge” (O’Farrell, 2009) </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
Michel Foucault <ul><li>Power </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (1990, p. 93) </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
“Precious,” the movie <ul><li>Taken from Push , by Sapphire (1997) </li></ul><ul><li>Claireece Precious Jones </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Obese </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>16 years old </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gets good grades </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reads & writes at a 3 rd grade level </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pregnant by her father for the 2 nd time </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
“Precious,” the movie <ul><li>When Mo’Nique was interviewed on the red carpet of the Academy Awards, she said, “This is a universal story.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>White Mary Johnstons exist </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>White Carl Joneses exist </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
What emerged within Claireece? <ul><li>Reading at a 8 th grade level </li></ul><ul><li>Journaling (creative inspiration) </li></ul><ul><li>Motherhood (both children with her now) </li></ul><ul><li>Independence (living away from home) </li></ul><ul><li>Motivation (to finish high school) </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
The Landscapes <ul><li>Social/Cultural </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Truth-telling as exemplified by Dr. Gates and Sherri Shepherd </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bringing into the Light or opening up of racial issues </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Educational </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Increasing percentage of students of color </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“Precious” counter-example to dominant hegemony </li></ul></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver
<ul><li>If you wish to study these materials in more depth go to: </li></ul><ul><li>www.slideshare.net/jofoy or </li></ul><ul><li>www.scribd.com/jokfoy or </li></ul><ul><li>www. vimeo . com/jofoy </li></ul>April 28, 2010 Jo Foy, AAACS Conference, Denver Thank you!