In a time when twitter is a wash with hideously mawkish blog entries, self-promoting posts, listing…self-promoting posts. And, when the general consensus seems to be one of relief that we can now continue to teach in the exact same ‘way’ we always have done; safe in the knowledge that now we know Ofsted like it. I thought it was time to focus on the students.
The only way to change things is to change the things that we do. No input; no output. It is our time for the ‘long walk through the institutions’ of education in the UK. But this change is not going to come from the authors, researchers, educators or consultants that peddle their ‘expertise’, but from the people in the classrooms. It can only happen by and from the teachers.
We must demand freedom from our students. Freedom of thought; freedom of desire and freedom of purpose.
We have to recognise that learning is a complex and multifaceted process that goes far beyond drill-oriented, stimulus-and-response methodologies. Teachers should never ignore matters of contexts and must not eradicate elements of the culture, histories, and meanings that all of the children bring to their school.
Without stimulating freedom from within, it is impossible for a teacher to gain knowledge of the individuals that they teach. John Dewey described it as: “enforced quiet and acquiescence prevent pupils from disclosing their real natures.” So next time you habitually click on the retweet button, think about whether the teaching ideology/technique you have just read about, takes into account the beautiful complexities that are possessed (or hidden) by every student you encounter on a day to day basis.
Simone de Beauvoir believed that a uniformed traditional education was deliberate in: “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”, as she believed the more the consumers of education can be encouraged to adapt to the situation they are in, the more easily they can be dominated by the hegemony.
Perhaps, many teaches just want to ‘teach’ kids ‘the stuff’ and don’t see the relevance of contextualising the learning for their students, or not take into account the complexities of each individual in their classroom. Instead, they may argue that every student needs to know the same stuff, regardless of income, race, gender and any attempt to contextualise the learning would be seen as ‘dumbing down’ the content.
I asked Henry Giroux this question via email, his response: “The dumbing down argument truly qualifies for being dumb. For many kids, schools disconnect from their lives and become a form of dead time. If these critics think that knowledge speaks for itself and does not have to connect in some ways to the lives of their students, it is because they don’t care about these students and view them as disposable, while treating them as indifferent and dumb. The notion that knowledge should be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative is lost on those reformers who are really simply accountants of a neoliberal audit culture.”
It’s not about the (false) dichotomy of traditional versus progressive teaching. It’s not about politics. It’s just the difference between right and wrong.
To paraphrase Dewey, do you enforce artificial uniformity; do you place a premium upon preserving the outward appearance of attention, decorum and obedience; do you focus upon passivity and receptivity?
Paulo Freire describes this imbuement of knowledge, so keenly advocated by many, as the ‘Banking’ concept.
“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.”
The banking education system of the UK much applauded and promoted: “serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed” And, why would they? Learning that is centered around the experiences, contexts, cultures and histories of the students in that school will only empower them to become critical and engaged agents, capable of making a change…and we don’t want that do we?
Remember, there are a lot of bankers in education; beware they come in many guises.
Antonio Gramsci on describing the role of a teacher wrote: “he must be aware of the contrast between the type of culture and society which he represents and the type of culture and society represented by his pupils, and conscious of his obligation to accelerate and regulate the child’s formation in conformity with the former an in conflict with the latter”
I would argue with Gramsci here, that as teachers we shouldn’t be forcing our representations of our culture and our society on to our students. And, we certainly shouldn’t be doing it under the illusion that if we bow down to Hirsch’s ‘common cultural literacy’ that it will improve the futures of students from a disadvantaged background.
Nick Pearce, director of the Institute Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggests, and I agree, that: “If you deny people their own cultural expression and the validity of anything they experience in their own cultural lives, then you’re in the business of exclusion and oppression.”
Schools are becoming non descript, uniformed institutes, continuously dousing any opportunities of creativity and uniqueness which only produces isolated subordinate robots.
How many of our schools in the UK are stimulating and educating their students to achieve a critical awareness of what is actually happening in their own world? Are we energising young people to do something differently in their moment in time? How many of our teachers ignore the desires and impulses of their students in favour of ‘bestowing the gift’ of their knowledge?
Learning should start with an impulse. The execution of this impulse will lead to a desire. The end point of this impulse and desire, is itself the purpose. To act on this impulse and achieve the purpose requires the involvement of intelligence.
How do you do it? Well, I’ll leave you with Dewey’s advice on freeing students: “The only escape from them in a standardized school is an activity which is irregular and perhaps disobedient.” In other words; punk learning.
“You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people” a staggeringly overlooked issue in education, beautifully written about by @rapclassroom