"No room, no room!" they cried out when they saw Alice coming. "There's plenty of room, " said Alice indignantly. (Snippet from Mad Tea Party Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
Gerri August traveled to an urban, public charter school, called Horton. She observed and participated in Zeke Lerner's democratic Kindergarten classroom for one academic year. There she explored the different family configurations. She focused on a boy Cody, a child with lesbian moms. Cody is a Cambodian boy who was adopted by two white moms. Gerri August choose to visit this classroom because she wanted to see what happened when a child with lesbian moms shared family stories in a classroom led by a teacher committed to democratic practice. This study is an analysis of Cody's experience in a democratic pedagogy classroom as well as how Zeke, the teacher, created a democratic
educational environment in which broad issues of difference were recognized and honored.
Gerri August had questions she wanted answered as she stepped foot in Zeke's classroom. She spent 3 mornings a week analyzing, participating in morning meeting, special activity, field trips, reading stories, settling conflicts between students, and interviewing Cody's moms, Zeke and his assistant, and the school administrator. Here are the questions Gerri August compiled to her readers.
1. What happens when a child with lesbian parents and children from other non-dominant family structures share their family stories in a classroom that is led by a teacher committed to democratic pedagogy?
2. What social actions do the teacher, the child from the non-dominant family structure, and her classmates undertake in the negotiation of unfamiliar ideas regarding family?
3. What cultural tools mediate these social actions?
4. How might a democratic, transformative educator respond to sociocultural differences that emerge in the classroom discourse?
5. How might the educator create constraints and possibilities that encourage students to recognize and appreciate differences?
6. How might a child who represents a marginalized community (a child with lesbian moms) respond to such interventions?
Although Cody didn't explain how he felt about having lesbian moms or share stories, as his teacher taught a unit on Family, the data Gerri August collected explained enough. Instead of Cody being upset about having lesbian parents, which many readers probably thought that, he was more upset that he was adopted. Cody had many opportunities to share family stories, but he avoided every situation possible. Gerri August interpreted this as Cody was not ready to "come out."
Zeke's democratic way of teaching wasn't to upset Cody in any way possible. But his teachings seem to be a child-centered environment that provides choices for stories, conversations, and ways of teachable moments. Everyone is teaching and learning from each other in engaging ways. Although Cody's response to the Family Unit were silent, his actions were evident that the problem wasn't because his moms were lesbians. It was deeper than that. Student-driven lessons are risky, especially when its about each other's differences, such as family. I think Zeke was trying to make the students be more aware of each other and how its okay to be different. Maybe the teacher was trying to get Cody feel better about his family situation. But the lesson wasn't geared towards being adopted. I don't think Cody was ready to discuss that subject, but I don't think anyone was. I think Gerri August was trying to make it clear to her readers to take risks, teach family differences, but be aware of the challenges you may encounter.
Cody could be reacting to the anxiety and depression he may be feeling due to being adopted. This is something that could effect him the rest of his life. Its not his parents fault, even if they are lesbians. Its more than that and Cody may need more help than his teacher can give him.