Sunday, December 1, 2013

Argument (& Connections) on Shor's "Empowering Education"

Our final article, the first two chapters from Ira Shor’s Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change, was very interesting to read because it effectively tied together everything we have read and discussed over the course of the semester.  I kept noting in the margins when I would see something from a previous reading pop up, and by the end, I think just about every one appeared.  I will come back to that in a minute, though.

At the very beginning, Shor asks: “Can education develop students as critical thinkers, skilled workers, and active citizens?  Can it promote democracy and serve all students equitably?” (p. 11)  Shor argues that it can, though not through the traditional curriculum instituted in so many schools.  The traditional curriculum is an authoritarian model in which the people in power have selected what will be taught and what will be left out, and then these rules and knowledge are transferred one-way to students through teacher-centered methods.  In this model, students are “educat[ed] … into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind or into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean” (p. 13).  Students’ natural curiosity and critical thinking skills are slowly stamped out as they progress through school.  The students feel alienated from the curriculum, particularly when their own cultures and languages are left out.  Students also feel as though they are being taught at, and the methods of memorizing and regurgitating facts turn them off of schooling and pursuing knowledge altogether.

Shor argues instead for “a curriculum that encourages student questioning, [in which] the teacher avoids a unilateral transfer of knowledge.  She or he helps students develop their intellectual and emotional powers to examine their learning in school, their everyday experience, and the conditions in society” (p. 12).  He defines this method of empowering education as “a critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change.  It is a student-centered program for multicultural democracy in school and society” (p. 15) – the purpose of which, as he quotes Banks as saying, is to “help students to develop the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become social critics who can make reflective decisions and implement their decisions in effective personal, social, political, and economic action” (p. 16).

This is achieved by encouraging students’ participation in their education through problem-posing, which enables them to think critically and reflect on subject matter and how it relates to society.  “Participation provides students with active experiences in class, through which they develop knowledge that is reflective understanding, not mere memorization” (p. 21)  When students are able to explore material and question what they are learning, it promotes positive feelings toward learning and their education.  This is made more effective when the curriculum is “situate[d] … in the themes, knowledge, cultures, conditions, and idioms of the students” which then “increases their ability to participate, because they can begin critical reflection in their own context and their own words” (p. 44 & 45).  This requires the inclusion of multicultural and diversity elements, to that the curriculum and the classroom become the “windows and mirrors” in which students can see themselves and others.  “Situated, multicultural pedagogy increases the chance that students will feel ownership in their education and reduces conditions that produce their alienation” (p. 51).

As I mentioned above, I was able to draw connections between this article and almost every previous reading:

Johnson:  “Traditionalists … present standard canons of knowledge as universal, excellent, and neutral.  They do not present them as historical choices of some groups whose usage and culture are privileged in society.  Instead, the central bank is delivered to students as a common culture belonging to everyone, even though not everyone has had an equal right to add to it, take from it, critique it, or become part of it”  (p. 32).
SCWAAMP:  “When we participate in critical classes … we can reflect on reality and on our received values, words, and interpretations in ways that illuminate meanings we hadn’t perceived before.  … As conscious human beings, we can discover how we are conditioned by the dominant ideology” (p. 22).
Delpit:  “The teacher is the person who mediates the relationship between outside authorities, formal knowledge, and individual students in the classroom.  Through day-to-day lessons, teaching links the students’ development to the values, powers, and debates in society” (p. 13).
Kozol:  School funding is another political dimension of education, because more money had always been invested in the education of upper-class children and elite collegians than has been spent on students from lower-income homes and in community colleges” (p. 15).
McIntosh:  “Because it deposits information uncritically in students, the banking model is antidemocratic.  It denies the students’ indigenous culture and their potential for critical thought, subordinating them to the knowledge, values, and language of the status quo” (p. 33).
Rodriguez:  “[Cooper] demonstrated the potential of community discourse and showed students that the conflict between their home language and the academic idiom might not require them to deny their linguistic roots” (p. 49).
Collier:  “The students created an orthography for their indigenous speech while critically studying the official idiom of Standard English.  In the process, they developed critical and creative abilities that had eluded them before” (p. 52).
August:  “The empowering teacher who denies universal status to the dominant culture also denies emptiness in students.  They are not deficits; they are complex, substantial human beings who arrive in class with diverse cultures; they have languages, interests, feelings, experiences, and perceptions.  The responsibility of the problem-posing teacher is to diversify subject matter…” (p. 32)
Kohl:  “These [negative] student affects are commonly generated when an official culture and language are imposed from the top down, ignoring the students’ themes, languages, conditions, and diverse cultures.  Their consequent negative feelings interfere with learning and lead to strong anti-intellectualism in countless students as well as to alienation from civic life” (p. 23).
Kohn:  Education can socialize students into critical through or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean” (p. 13).
Christensen:  “The goal of problem-posing dialogue is critical thinking and action, which starts from perceiving the social, historical, or cultural causes of problems in one’s life … The first step in promoting action outside the classroom is to transform education inside the classroom.”  Auerbach & Wallerstein’s quote.  (p. 43)
Kahne & Westheimer:  “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men upon their world in order to transform it.”  Friere’s quote.  (p. 33)
Kliewer:  “Human beings do not invent themselves in a vacuum, and society cannot be made unless people create it together” (p. 15).

This book was published 20 years ago, and many of the educational reformers that Shor quotes throughout the reading were published long before that – Dewey published his ideas on progressive education 50 years ago!  If these methods are as positive and effective as they certainly seem to be, why don’t we see more of it in schools today?  Shor refers to Bowles and Gintis, saying “to them, schooling supports existing power and divisions in society by sorting students into a small elite destined for the top and a large mass destined for the middle and the bottom” (p. 19).  He later adds, “there is also political opposition to student participation because it challenges power relations in school and society” (p. 33).  I don’t like it.  Why is this so difficult to change?  I realize that, to some extent, as teachers our hands are tied by elements such as the common core, standardized testing, and the decisions made by those who have never taught (or barely so).  However, the tools we’ve been given through this course will help me do my best to offer my students an empowering experience, even if it is only in my own classroom.

Point to Share:  On page 15, I highlighted this quote: “The goals of this pedagogy are to relate personal growth to public life, by developing strong skills, academic knowledge, habits of inquiry, and critical curiosity about society, power, inequality, and change” – and then I wrote “Dr. Bogad” in the margin.  Find yourself wondering what an empowering curriculum would look like in an actual classroom?  Think back through our semester in this class.  :)

If you need this week's article!! :)

If you are trying to find this week's article, it's posted under Dr. August's articles in the library reserves instead of Dr. Bogad's.  Just type in "August", and it's the Shor article under her FNED 346 class.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!