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Professors discuss juvenile education policies

| Monday, November 21, 2016

The Saint Mary’s Faculty Colloquium Series continued Friday with presentations by Dawn Farmer, visiting assistant professor of music, and Sarah Noonan, visiting assistant professor of English.

Farmer provided insight into the shifting themes and sub-strands associated with the terms “urban,” “inner city,” “at risk,” “race” and “diversity” from 1991 to 2010 in her talk “Discursive Trends in Urban Music Education.”

Farmer chose to trace these words because of the power of discourse in shaping education, she said.

“Words are important,” she said. “Words carry a lot of weight. Words can inspire, words can hurt, words can heal and words can destroy. I became very interested in the words that we use within education and what weight those carry.”

She used two music journal publications through the National Association for Music Education to trace themes associated with words, and eventually used 1,206 articles from these journals, Farmer said.

The time frame for her research centered on the No Child Left Behind Act, Farmer said. She wanted to see if the trends of word usage shifted at all before and after the Act, and her results indicated that there was an especially interesting shift in the phrase “at risk.”

“Before the No Child Left Behind Act, when we think about students at risk, it means they’re going to have struggles in finishing or graduating a program,” Farmer said. “And those struggles were delineated in terms of medical conditions, assuming a physical or mental situation that was going to make it harder for them to graduate.

“After No Child Left Behind, they began focusing on assessment and the groups of students we assess, separating students by schools. We change the word ‘at risk’ to be problematic for graduating because of social or behavioral issues.”

The language educators use around music education is important because of the reality of labelling theory and self-fulfilling prophecy, Farmer said. Educators need to counter the current negative associations with the words “urban music education,” she said.

“We talk about these things of ‘truths’ … we accept them, because we don’t challenge our current practices,” Farmer said. “We have to find ways to not use the word ‘urban’ as a prerogative term within education. We have to make changes … I’m fighting for the idea of what success is and if we’re able to redefine it within our field.”

Sarah Noonan considered the relationship between numbers and a reader’s interaction with books in her talk “Reading as Exploration: Absence of Page Number’s in Medieval Manuscripts.”

An experience of trying to read and analyze a medieval manuscript in the Beinecke library inspired the research, Noonan said, as she felt disorientated without the page numbers as a navigational guide.

Despite the development of foliation in the 10th century, ideas of pagination surprisingly did not take root until the late 16th century, Noonan said.

“Without foliation or pagination, one must navigation and experience the book in a way that is complete different than as I do as a modern reader and scholar,” she said.

Instead, these books can be navigated with margin writing, red text, initials and a medieval calendar text, she said. One example of approaching a manuscript from a medieval perspective comes from reading “The Orchard of Syon,” where in descriptions of wandering through the orchard with both pleasant fruits and bitter herbs, one is invited to get lost in the orchard, that is, the text.

“This warning of bitter herbs is an attempt to leverage the readers lack of familiarity with the work to increase his or her emotional response,” Noonan said. “It seems to be an attempt to habituate readers to the emotional demands of reading and to evoke feelings where there are none.”

The lack of page numbers in manuscripts such as this one emphasizes how medieval books were different from modern books, in that no one copy was the exact same so page numbers were not as necessary for cross referencing exercises, she said.

By better understanding how medieval readers read medieval manuscripts, the disorientation she originally felt when reading a manuscript without page numbers decreases, she said. It is a different experience for the modern reader.

“If one assumes that the organizational structure of this manuscript is purposefully crafted and not deficient in some way, it is possible that words in this manuscript were organized so that here too, surprise and emotion play a powerful role in reading process. … If one cannot immediately locate what one is looking for within a book, then one must tread or read cautiously as though one were exploring a landscape,” Noonan said.

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

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