Thursday, August 26, 2010

Twitter Book Club: Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Ch 1

As I read Paulo Freire I can't help but put his words in the context of the current debate regarding standards, P21, and teacher accountability. It seems as though P21 folks and curriculum standards folks are pitted against each other in this debate in a polarizing way. If the standards movement and high stakes testing represent the pedagogical strong arm of the dominant class then the P21 movement is a counter movement that threatens the cultural heritage embedded in the standards-based structure. However, P21 looks as though it has set itself up to be equally oppressive, it has all the trappings of the standards movement including a "core curriculum," strictly segmented subject areas, predefined skills, etc.

This lies at the heart of my recent criticism of Diane Ravitch. While I am happy to see that she now views standardized tests as ineffective she is unwilling to take the leap to say that predefined standards and curriculum are oppressive. Being so fully a part of the class of ed reformers who drafted this system of standards-based accountability she cannot let go of the view that elite groups of experts should still pass down scripted curriculum. She just thinks we need better scripted curriculum. Her new tune is still paternalistic.

I do not know why my iPod thought I meant to type fiestas and I am not quite sure what I was trying to type here. Tyrant fiestas do sound interesting though.

This is a profound thought for me and a key point for this book. That the oppressed are simultaneously oppressed and their own oppressors is a fascinating concept and, I think, a difficult realization for many. I am reminded of this scene from what was one of my favorite movies growing up, Labyrinth:

It seems to fit so perfect with this line of reasoning.

This truth, I believe, is what lies at the heart of the teacher accountability debate. It is where John Merrow and Grant Wiggins get it wrong on this post and why the LA Times article listing "ineffective" teachers based solely on objective measures is wrong. According to Freire this kind of action constitutes an objectification of teachers and their students. Objectification is an act of oppression and violence.

That should be "makes" not "males." Another iPod typo.

I wish conservatives who oppose social justice education would use this line of reasoning to make their argument. I might actually support them in that effort if that were the case.

This makes me think of the line in Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society:

"Each of us is responsible for his or her own deschooling, and we have the power to do it." Illichless than a minute ago via Twittelator

Therefore, as Freire outlines in Ch 2, teachers who wish to liberate their students must become students (or teacher-students) and their students but be allowed to be teachers (or student-teachers).

One of the most powerful things I ever did as a teacher, and I talk and write about it all the time, happened when I taught a class where I exchanged roles with the students. After a week of dialog about learning and what the students in the class need from a learning environment I asked each student to research a topic that interested them deeply then take turns throughout the rest of the semester teaching week-long units on that subject to the rest of the class. I did this out of frustration that last minute I was told I could not teach a class I had prepared all all fall for. The day before school started I just threw up my hands and said, "Well then, I am just going to let the students teach the class." What resulted was learning like I had never seen in my classroom before. Freire has shone a light on what was perhaps the greatest reason for its success. I was, unknowingly, practicing near perfect critical pedagogy. We engaged in dialog, I shifted my role to that of learner among learners, and each student engaged their peers in project-based learning. This is how I want to teach but it is a difficult pedagogy to explain or defend to administrators who are deeply committed to the banking system view of teaching and learning.

I think the emergence of the Internet as a superior source of factual knowledge to the teacher in the classroom has forced this condition upon us. This is a good thing. Many times teachers are shocked when I tell them that I will often answer student questions with, "I don't know, lets find out." I have been told that this undermines my authority in the classroom and that if I present myself that way I will not be taken seriously by my students or fellow teachers. It means I don't possess the content knowledge necessary to be qualified for the position I hold. I know I held that view when I first began teaching. But to say, "I don't know" is liberating for the teacher as well as the student.

PLN take note.

If we did this, I wonder if we would ever need to speak so much again about student engagement or motivation. I think it would be like talking about the role of a buggy whip in the operation of an automobile or airplane.


Justin said...

Hi, you mentioned in the post that you discussed teaching and learning with students before you let that dive into developing a week-long unit to teach the class. I have an interest in doing this in a human biology class and was wondering if could give me some ideas as to what you introduced to them related to teaching and learning.

Carl Anderson said...


I am happy to hear you are thinking of trying something like this in your classroom. I hope you find it as transformative as I did. An important point about how the discussion about teaching and learning I did with my students was I did not bring any "teacherly" education language into the discussion. I let the students drive the dialogue. This allowed them to have agency in this process because we were using their words to understand the topic, not ours. The way I did this was to ask them all to imagine situations where they learned a lot (these could be in or out of school and could be as simple as learning the stove was hot by burning themselves). Then we took these stories and identified elements of these experiences that promoted or caused learning to happen. Then I asked them to consider formal learning situations where they did not learn much and we made a list of the reasons for failed learning experiences (what prevented them from learning). We then narrowed both lists to a short list of 5-7 universally shared elements. Then we drafted a contract for each other for what each student's unit would include and what it would not include. For example, students agreed that all units must include a hands-on project, discussion, and multiple ways of accessing/digesting content. Finally, and I think importantly, I participated in the rest of the course as a student, and I have to add that I did learn a lot by doing this, not just about teaching and learning but also content knowledge that I was unaware of. I did the assignments the kids assigned and allowed them to assess my work along with their fellow students. From this perspective I was able to model learning and teach subversively.

On an interesting note, after doing this with these kids I overheard many of them in their other classes being more proactive at advocating for their own learning needs.

Good luck, let me know how it goes.

Mrs. Tenkely said...

I feel like so much of what is wrong in education stems back to making teachers and students feel unimportant. We are made less than human every time a new standardized curriculum or test pops up. Unfortunately it only seems to be getting worse. We aren't really valued as the individual unique beings we are. We are shoved into the same classrooms and expected to learn in the same way at the same time.