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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).”

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Paulo Freire

Here’s the question from @kandeezie:

How does a particular perspective (e.g. Feminism, Anti-Racism, Critical Pedagogy) critique the functioning of schooling in society?

My answer?

Well, any perspective you take, whether revolutionary or not, changes what your definition of schooling should be. I don’t know many who like education as is. If you’re a feminist, you wonder about the perpetual patriarchal reinforcement through the explorers and thinkers model. Anti-racism? Exclusion of colored history except in “model minority” form. Critical Pedagogy? Lack of  real inquiry.

Unfortunately, our ed systems are built to create thinkers and doers for a select few. How they think depends on the pedagogue in front of them. On a macro scale, those in poor (and not necessarily urban) communities are pushed to get kids to read, write, and do basic math except for about a 10th who eventually show the promise of an American illusion. Those in wealthy communities are asked to question, but sometimes in the confines of the status quo, where they are the chosen ones.

That’s why critical pedagogy in the light of Paulo Freire is so … critical. He implores pedagogues to consider an alternative where we simultaneously break the cycle of an education done to them and reprogram people into questioning that which they learn in all their subjects. He pushes us to gain control in an anti-establishment format and then lose control to the peoples’ true will. In theory, it might sound hypocritical, but in practice, it’s exactly what that doctor ordered.

The history of education is such that it implicitly creates divisions in a winners / losers model. Those that win the wars often write the history books we learn from. That’s why as children, we’re kept from the facts about the slave labor and rebellion movements for the 500 or so years of the Western Hemisphere’s history. Imagine if kids knew that in 1804, Black slaves actually rebelled against their slave masters and creates their own nation with the premise of independence. Imagine if kids saw more photos of Latinos and Asians standing alongside Blacks and Whites during the Civil Rights Movement instead of isolating the races present in that movement to African-Americans. Imagine if they knew that women were the backbone to indigenous cultures throughout the Americas, and that Columbus didn’t discover anything … and got credit for it anyways.

The worst part is that there are well-meaning adults standing in front of them who know these facts, but with the push for knowing minutiae that we can answer on bubble sheets and less on critical thought, education becomes muddled. Then again, we have strong pockets of the spirit of Freire living right here in this country. We have teachers willing to engage students, and let them ask the questions that lead to the aforementioned answers. We have administrators who protect their schools from the insidious nature of present social studies textbooks. We have allies who want kids to have strong foundations in their core subjects, but take those and ask as loudly as possible why things are as they are.

They just don’t speak too much about it. Yes, more ironies in play.

We need more questions, because the answers we have right now simply aren’t working. If we get kids to ask questions now, they’ll find some answers, hopefully in time for either of us to see it. This sort of function can only happen in the very places reformers are attacking now: public schools. We the people control those domains.

Let’s ask them what’s going on.

Jose, who has a #LoveForPublicEd …