Kim Anderson’s career path has been a diverse and divergent one. Prior to obtaining a graduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis, she was a free-lance writer, photographer and graphic artist with interests in “outsider art,” expressions of oppression and liberation beyond conventional artistic borders or boundaries. After many years of private practice as a licensed clinical social worker, clinical supervisor and educator, Ms. Anderson received a post-graduate certificate and board certification in art psychotherapy. She is the author of Culturally Considerate School Counseling: Helping Without Bias (2010), co-author of Creating Culturally Considerate Schools: Educating Without Bias (2012, released this week), both published by Corwin Press and a contributor to How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You: Culturally Relevant Teaching Strategies, 2nd Edition (2012) and The Biracial and Multiracial Student Experience: A Journey to Racial Literacy (2008) by Dr. Bonnie M. Davis. Ms. Anderson presents her eclectic work at numerous local, regional and national events and venues, engaging her audience through compelling narrative, careful research, evocative experiences, and instructive storytelling.
Recently I presented an experiential workshop at a wonderful conference on Equity and Social Justice in Education. I do this kind of workshop often but this one stands out not only as a prototype of my work, but as an archetype of sorts. The strand in which I presented was “Othering.”
Borreo, Yeh, Cruz and Suda (2012) define “othering” as a personal, social, cultural, and historical experience involving a) cultural and racial ambiguity, b) categorization and labeling, c) hierarchical power dynamics, and d) limited access to resources. At worst, “othering” is motivated by hostility; at best by indifference or even sympathy, but in each case, individuals are seen as “other,” rather than as part of the dominant and/or normative group (Lister, 2008).
As a non-academic researcher (not currently attached to a university), non-educator educational advocate (no experience as a classroom teacher), and person of non-normative aesthetics (facial scars), I often find myself in the company of teachers, administrators, and higher educational scholars. In each identity, I am Other.
This experience causes me to ponder how educators view one another within the school system. Often those of us in “helping professions” perform very different functions which may seem peripheral or unnecessary. School social workers and counselors are sometimes seen as Other, coming into a classroom or school without educational reference or understanding and imposing unfamiliar concepts and structures. This can also apply to special education staff, ELL instructors, literacy coaches, occupational therapists, school nurses or outside consultants. Because each of these disciplines brings distinct philosophies and purposes, othering often occurs between these groups of professionals as well. Our mutual goal is to bring equity and social justice into the classroom, yet if we neglect to bring the same into our staff meetings, PLCs, or continuing education experiences, we run the risk of perpetuating the very dynamics we wish to change.
A frequent example of this dynamic occurs when our specific jobs are defined for us. It is not uncommon for the role of school social workers or counselors to be misunderstood or misstated, the outcome being underutilization and marginalization within the school community. This may be compounded by the fact that legal definitions and licensure requirements differ broadly from state to state, sometimes school to school. In some school communities, the job of school social worker is seen as primarily resource and referral and the job of school counselor is that of behavior management and retention. In others, these duties are reversed. Adjunct service providers – those professionals called upon from outside the school system to lend specific skill sets – are often even more suspect because they lack the sort of cursory social connection that day to day exposure to and involvement with co-workers afford.
History gives us a valuable model of cultural consideration between colleagues in the relationship between Ida B. Wells and Jane Addams. Ida B. Wells is recognized as a political activist and advocate of racial equality. Jane Addams, founder of the settlement house movement in Chicago, has long been considered the grandmother of social work. These accomplishments are substantial, yet Addams’ and Wells’ joint work in the areas of social justice and educational equity is less documented. Both women were dedicated to educational reform through community building powered by the successes of the settlement house and women’s club movement.
For Addams and Wells, the purpose of education was to enhance an individual’s capacity to engage with others as a means of promoting social reform. Central to their work was the notion of racial and gender diversity as strengthening, not hindering, democracy. Although they came from very different personal and professional backgrounds their avocations paralleled one another and they maintained a working relationship throughout the course of their lives. The dialogue between Addams and Wells underscored differences in their understandings of the causes of social injustice and educational inequity, but it did not impede their joint work. For example, they differed in their views of causation of racism and issues related to immigrants, yet they both worked tirelessly for integration of schools, women’s rights, and the NAACP.
As an educated black woman, Ida B. Wells’ extensive accomplishments did not shield her from racism or sexism. The daughter of slaves, she was born a slave, yet her family was heavily involved in politics after emancipation. Wells, along with her siblings and her mother, attended Shaw University, one of the schools established after “Negro education” was legalized. Ida B. Wells became a teacher and later a writer, feeling “that people who have little or no school training should have something into their homes which dealt with things in a simple, helpful way . . . so I wrote in a plain, common-sense way on the things that concerned our people,” (Duster, 1970).
Conversly, Jane Addams was born into an affluent family with both business and political connections. She was an intelligent young girl who dreamed of attending Smith College, but her father would not allow it. She did attend a school closer to home, but struggled to find a place for herself in the world. She attended medical school for a short time, but remained uninspired until she visited a settlement house in London which sparked her interest in establishing a similar house in Chicago. Hull House began Addams’ reputation as a social reformer which led to her passionate work for suffrage, civil rights and peace. Her pacifism eventually resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize, but at the time her outspoken stance against World War I was quite unpopular. She was attacked by the press and expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, yet found outlets by providing relief supplies to women and children of enemy nations.
Ida B. Wells and Jane Addams both typified the atypical, the Other. They also epitomized the nature of culturally considerate cooperation between colleagues. They believed that embracing difference was essential to furthering the cause of specific social and cultural groups. Their own significant differences are well chronicled, yet their mutual respect for one another fostered significant change within their common communities and influenced a generation of social justice advocates.
In my role as outsider, witness, and Other, I offer experiential team building workshops to schools and organizations in an effort to encourage engagement with and cultural consideration of colleagues. One such workshop is called Meal of the Imagination: Recipes for Change. Breaking bread is an archetypal symbol of communion, unity, peace and prosperity. During this workshop, individual place settings are created then brought together in a community constructed table. Through art, music, and story participants share a “meal of the imagination” during which attendants are considered honored guests. Through the negotiation of space and sharing the things that feed our personal and professional souls, participants discover the many nourishing contributions each team member brings to the table.
Our chosen professions comprise an important part of our personal identity and culture. As professionals we need to model the same cultural consideration of our unique vocations as we do with our students and their families. Cultural consideration begins with empathic understanding and ends with reconciliation. Somewhere between is learning about the Other and respecting the differing skills we bring into the school community, much like the settlement house workers or the women’s club movement of the 1800s who found unity in difference in advancement of more effective solutions to poverty, injustice and educational equity.
Anderson, K. L. (2010). Culturally Considerate School Counseling: Helping Without Bias. Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Anderson, K. L. and Davis, B. M. (2012) Creating Culturally Considerate Schools: Educating Without Bias. Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Borrero, N., Yeh, C., Cruz, C. & Suda, J. (2012) Teachers College Record, volume 114, no. 2.
Duster, A. (Ed.) (1970). Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lister, R. (2009). “Povertyism and ‘Othering’: Whey they Matter, presented at the conference on Challenging Povertyism, London, England, October 17, 2008.
National Association of Social Workers (2012). Social Work Speaks: National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements 2012-2014. NASW Press, Washington DC.
Smith Crocco, M., Munro, P. & Weiler, K. (1999). Pedagogies of Resistance: Women Educator Activists, 1880-1960. Teacher College Press, NY.
Trainin Blank, B. (1998) Settlement Houses: Old idea in few form builds communities. The New Social Worker, 5(3).