Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Education is Politics: An Agenda for Empowerment"

1. “People are naturally curious. They are born learners. Education can either develop or stifle their inclination to ask why and to learn.”
As babies develop from infanthood to school-aged, they are undergoing a constant quest for knowledge. They explore, ask questions, and desire to learn more and more about the things around then and the concepts they learn about in school. Naturally, the desire to learn decreases overtime, and if teachers do not consistently evoke curiosity in their students, education will appear increasingly less beneficial to them. The educational system described by Shor promotes a want to learn by questioning and critical thinking, but a traditional education based on “unilateral transfer of knowledge” and the “traditional syllabus” emphasizes the work aspect of education, and the authoritarian nature of the teacher. Of course a student is going to resist education if he is forced into the realm of this trite system year after year.

2. “Whose history and literature is taught and whose ignored? Which groups are included and which left out of the reading list of text? From whose point of view is the past and present examined? Which themes are emphasized and which not?”
How many times has the Christopher Columbus story been told from the perspective of the Europeans? Oh, the discovery of America! Oh, the glorious exchange of resources between the Native Americans and the Europeans! Oh, the mass killing, stealing, and raping of the Native Americans by the Europeans! Oops, we don’t discuss that last fact until college…  This quote also relates to the question raised in class about Thanksgiving related activities in schools. I have been taught many times that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated because the Pilgrims were giving thanks to the Native Americans (numerous times misnamed as “Indians”) for helping them settle into their new land. I do believe that students who are in kindergarten or first grade need not hear about the violent truth behind the matter, but they also should not be lied to by continuing this fallacy. These are two examples of how curricula often ignore certain details or skew facts.

3. “For now, I want to suggest that conflicts cannot be prevented and cannot always be negotiated successfully even in a participatory classroom. But a democratic and cooperative process provides the best chance for the constructive resolution of conflict between teachers and students.”
I like that Shor mentions this in his book; it makes this education system seem realistic and plausible because it shows that participatory education has faults, as does traditional education. The fault here, though, is a result of critical thinking and formation of one’s own opinion, which are essential skills in the real world. The faults of the traditional education system are based heavily on imbalances of power, which is an aspect of education and society at large that we try to avoid. Also, as the quote proposes, these conflicts can give rise to meaningful reflection and a second level of opinion formation, during which students help to resolve the conflicts. Therefore, the fault of the arousal of conflicts in student debates is easily fixable, but the fault of year after year of rote memorization leading to a resistance to education is not.

I think one of the major reasons why our class works so well is because it incorporates elements from this model of education. Just as it is based on reciprocity rather than individualism, our activities promote a sense of critical inquiry rather than repetitive work. I cannot speak for everyone, but generally the material appeals to our interests because we are not forced to understand it through examinations, but rather by working with groups of other students and as a whole class. This article reminded me of the mid-term letter. It allowed us a certain amount of power in classroom activities. We were able to state our opinions about all aspects of the course, and guide our professor towards or away from certain activities and changes in requirements, if not for us, for students in the future.


Dr. Lesley Bogad said...

Thank you for the connections to our course -- I take that as the highest compliment! :)

Dr. Lesley Bogad said...

And, in general, your blogs are rich and thoughtful. I can really see how you made sense of our readings each week in light of the course as a whole!

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