The Diversity of “Funds of Knowledge”

Charlotte Perry (’23) reflects on an important Skyline Writing Center value: funds of knowledge. “But the part of it that I think a lot of students don’t consider when they first join the Writing Center is that your fund of knowledge can be your people skills, ability to make people laugh/feel comfortable, and being able to rephrase questions.”

When I first joined the Writing Center one of the biggest things that stood out and kind of made me nervous was the whole “we welcome all funds of knowledge” thing. I remember thinking “oh no,I’m not very good at punctuation” blah blah self criticism blah blah. But that’s not what “funds of knowledge” actually means; sure it can mean you are skilled in punctuation and grammar or analytical writing etc. But the part of it that I think a lot of students don’t consider when they first join the Writing Center is that your fund of knowledge can be your people skills, ability to make people laugh/feel comfortable, and being able to rephrase questions. Those are all very important funds of knowledge that don’t necessarily have anything to do with academics but traits like those make great tutors when they are taught that those traits are something to be proud of. 

I used to feel pretty insecure about my tutoring abilities because I felt I wasn’t “qualified enough” to be a tutor at times; before I realized that not only is it perfectly okay to ask for help from other tutors and be vulnerable and say “I’m still learning how to tutor assignments like this” and that in itself is another form of….a fund of knowledge! Advocating for yourself and others is a skill that isn’t inherent for everyone. Everyone in the Writing Center and who comes into the Writing Center are all works in progress. We’re all still learning and no one is perfect and no tutor is going to have all the answers. 

Growth mindset. Shared vulnerability. Funds of knowledge. Community collaboration. That is the Skyline Writing Center.

Academic Validation: The Issues with a Single Measure of Intelligence

Olivia Palmbos (’23) writes a timely piece on academic validation. “Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretense.”

As October fades into November and fall settles into winter, the Skyline student body adjusts once again to a new academic year. Projects and testing in classes are beginning to escalate, and, unsurprisingly, grades are starting to flood PowerSchool in anticipation of the end of Trimester 1. As the old patterns of academia return, so do old habits, including the age-old mindset of academic validation – an indulgence that even I find myself falling prey to. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a notification for a good grade popping up in the gradebook…and nothing more distressing than seeing a notification for a bad one.

Academic validation, stemming from a need to feel validated in one’s intelligence based on academic success, is a surprisingly normalized occurrence in our society that can warp into a toxic mindset under the wrong pretenses. As easy as it is to fall into an unhealthy mindset of academic validation, it is critical to remember that grades, no matter how important they may seem, are not an accurate measure of intelligence. Too frequently, the concept of intelligence is measured on a single standard. Grades, SAT scores, or GPA are often misconstrued to be an indication of how “smart” an individual is, stemming from a misguided and singular conception of intelligence. In fact, according to an article from CNBC citing the studies of esteemed Harvard psychology professor Howard Gardner, there is not one definition of intelligence, but rather eight: spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligence. These newfound definitions of intelligence span beyond tests and quizzes, and cover a spectrum of talents that are not represented in a grading atmosphere. From artistic prowess and a knack for musical rhythm, to an innate understanding of community and self, Gardner acknowledges that intelligence cannot be summed up in a number or letter grade. Rather, intelligence is wonderfully diverse, and can be displayed in a host of different ways, incapable of being measured by a single unit. Although there are more than eight different types of intelligence, studies show that only one type of intelligence is emphasized in the education system, specifically when it comes to grading and assessments: logical-mathematical intelligence. In other words, grading represents one eighth of all natural intelligences, rendering it an inadequate measure of how “smart” a student is. Tests don’t demonstrate a student’s skill, but rather their skill set within one area of expertise. We, as both a student body and academic establishment, need to move away from this faulty definition of intelligence, and instead towards a wider representation of intelligence within the school community.

This is not to say, however, that taking pride in one’s grades is a bad thing. Often, working hard on an assignment and seeing payoff in the grade received can be affirming and uplifting. However, what is important to remember is not to stake one’s worth on academic validation. Grades cannot, and will not, provide an accurate representation  of the diversity of  intelligences in a student body, nor one’s worth as a person. 

Funds of Knowledge: The Importance of Diversity in Writing Centers

Caitlyn Donnelly (’21) believes that everyone has a piece of the puzzle and that building a diverse writing center staff is critical to a successful program

By: Caitlyn Donnelly (’22)
Second-Year Tutor + Writing Center House Leader

Before Winter Break, I was talking with another tutor in the Writing Center classroom, looking up at the name tags and commenting on the cool designs that everyone had made to fit in with their names. Some were bright and colorful, but others were more muted and tame. Some had extra little drawings around the letters, and others just simply showcased their name in bright, bold lettering alone. None of these were decorated the “right” or “wrong” way, but each of them showed off the tutor’s creativity and personality in a different manner, which made the wall more exciting.

That’s what makes the Skyline Writing Center so special; everyone comes from a different background that adds a new perspective to tutoring.

A good tutor isn’t always the person that gets straight A’s, or gets a perfect score on the SAT, or is the president of 3 clubs. Those qualities alone don’t constitute being a good tutor. Compassion, care, and an understanding of funds of knowledge and growth mindset are some of the most important qualities that a tutor could have.

School hasn’t always come easy for me. I’ve struggled in math class before and felt the frustration of not understanding something right away, and I’m not a perfect writer either. I would especially struggle with grammar rules and spelling in the past, and still often do. I know that I would never want anyone to judge my intelligence on my ability to place commas, since there is so much more to me than that. When I’m tutoring someone, I never feel like I’m above or smarter than them, because of these experiences and feelings I’ve had as a student and a learner.

One time, while tutoring in a ninth grade class, a girl asked me for help with her comma placement. She reminded me a lot of myself, and I never once thought that she was “stupid” for not knowing where to put a comma. As I helped her, I told her about how I struggled with this same concept when I was her age, and how I had only just figured it out in recent months. This is what separates a Writing Center tutor from a teacher; the hierarchical idea that the person offering help is smarter than the writer is shrunken when small vulnerable experiences can be shared.

This is one of the reasons why having a diverse writing center is so important. If every tutor looked like the “perfect student” that I described earlier, the Skyline Writing Center would not be as successful as it is today. When students at Skyline walk past the glass windows of the Writing Center and glance in, they see a diverse group of tutors that represent the demographics of our school, ensuring that someone in there looks like them. This alone might make a student more comfortable visiting the Writing Center, knowing that they could receive help from someone without the possibility of being judged. One of the main reasons for having a high school writing center is to provide a space where students can get help from their peers, not their intimidating teachers. So why are so many writing centers dominated by white, able-bodied, cishet girls? Because the truth is these people often fit the description of the “perfect student” in America, which is a whole other issue in itself. Having writing centers filled with the same type of people with the same experiences does not foster an environment of growth mindset and vulnerability, and can deter students who don’t want to feel judged for reaching out for help.

The nametags on our wall are widely different, yet they all fit together to make a perfect square that’s intriguing to look at, just like how each individual in the Writing Center is special in their own way, but our differences help us operate successfully as a whole.