Are You a 1%er or a 99%er in the #OccupyTheClassroom Movement?

Jose Vilson Jose

Paulo Freire

Good friend Stephen Lazar hit an essay out of the park yesterday (which he published early this morning). It’s worth the read because the rest of what I’m about to say is going to stir a bit of conversation around what’s what. First, a quote:

I think we, the teachers, have to bare some blame for setting the conditions that led to the Occupy movement.  Too many of us (and as radical as I try to be in the classroom, I fall far short of where I need to be) are the gatekeepers of knowledge, the sole determiners of success and failure, and hold monopolies on the administration of justice.  In our classrooms, far too many of us are the 1%. Classrooms do need to be occupied, not just to ensure teachers can do their jobs well, but to create the conditions for real democracy.  That will involve giving up some of the power we as teachers have, just as the 99% want an appropriate share of the power that the 1% holds in this country.  This involves some real risk on our part, but opens up a world of possibilities.

Let me say for the record that I totally agree with Stephen’s critique of teachers right now. Teachers too often see themselves as the guardians of the knowledge cannon instead of the gurus from which our students can seek guidance for their own lives. In our classroom management, sometimes we use tactics that ensure that students learn by means of systematizing rather than an organic process. We prefer to yell at students for quiet, but observers wonder why, upon encountering this classroom, students haven’t learned much of anything. That’s why we take on a 1% mentality where we’re privileged enough to take on 30 students at a time and tell them they have no power over the process of their own recognition of the world.

Having said that, the only rejoinder I have in his entire essay is that I think along the lines of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. We’re all certain about what he would have said about the #OccupyWallStreet movement, but, in extending that to the classroom, he might posit that we ought to look at his proposed paradigm. Teachers take on the role of teacher-students and students become student-teachers. The difference here is the emphasis on cyclical learning and shared empowerment. When we first receive students, they come with their own set of ideologies and understandings that have little to do with us. When we first develop relationships with them, they may have understood school to work one particular way, and thus, when we encounter them, we have to open alternative doors for them.

Especially in K-8, teachers (as teacher-students) ought to set a certain structure where kids get to ask relevant and open questions that set them up for real inquiry in the high school level. Based on what I know about child development, we can ask students to ask somewhat abstract questions in K-8, but they encounter a new sense of self by the time they get to 9th grade, aware of their impending adulthood, but still piecing together the major parts of their worlds. In K-8, however, they’re not quite there. They haven’t acquired those basic skills yet. In any sphere, it’s important to better understand the dynamic of the people and its civilization before engaging in it actively.

That’s why #OccupyTheClassroom is so critical and unlike the other critical masses in present-day. Teachers must occupy the system, along with the idea of “classroom” for so many of us. Students and parents should as well, mainly because they bring with them the social currency needed to elevate classroom experiences. Once occupied, we ought to consider the implications of a more free-minded student body, able to advance the agenda of their local communities instead of the hyperbolic American Dream. To do this doesn’t mean we settle for mediocrity; if anything, it means we have to work harder against centuries of training and images for a more apt preparation for the world around them.

Surely, I’d think Stephen would agree.

Mr. Vilson, who probably won’t respond to other posts about #OccupyTheClassroom unless they’re actually factual.

Subtitle: “Yes, But (A Pseudo-Rebuttal To Stephen Lazar’s #OccupyTheClassroom Piece).”