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.
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.
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.
"Each of us is responsible for his or her own deschooling, and we have the power to do it." Illich
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.
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.