Sunday, June 19, 2011
Shor: Talking Points-Connections
I feel that Ira Shor's piece "Education is Politics" was a great choice for our last reading of the semester because it can be connected to so many of the pieces we've read. In this piece, Shor talks about the importance of learning socialization in the classroom. He also believes that teachers must run a democratic classroom in which students are encouraged to question everything. In an authoritative classroom, teachers have all the power, and the students are just meant to listen, observe and regurgitate facts and figures. In a democratic classroom, the students steer the learning and take ownership over it.
Shor comments on how as hard as we sometimes try, no curriculum can be neutral. He says, "All forms of education are political because they can enable or inhibit the questioning habits of students, thus developing or disabling their critical relation to knowledge, schooling, or society. Education can socialize students into critical thought or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of the mind or passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do or what things mean." Ever since we can remember, we're taught to listen to authority and not ruffle any feathers. Many administrators think that the ideal classroom is a group of students sitting quietly listening to the teacher lecture. Shor is saying that there is no give-and-and take in that kind of learning, and students are not being taught how to think critically.
I found many connections to previous selections in this reading by Shor. The one that jumped out at me the most was the connection to the Gerri August reading. She talks a lot of how Zeke practices "democratic pedagogy" in his kindergarten classroom. There's a quote in the August piece that I think Shor would very much agree with about a democratic society. I think the word "society" could easily be replaced with the word "classroom." It defines a democratic society/"classroom" as: "The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the fully import of their activity." This quote makes each person/student accountable for contributing something to the class, and it equates the classroom to a kind of "community", which is one of Shor's visions for empowering students.
Shor also points out that in a democratic classroom, "the teacher leads and directs the curriculum, but does so democratically with the participation of the students, balancing the need for structure with the need for openness. To be democratic implies orienting subject matter to the student culture-their interests, needs, speech and preceptions-while creating a negotiable the openness in class where the student's imput jointly creates learning process." (pg. 16). I think the examples of the lessons in Zeke's classroom illustrate this type of learning perfectly. Zeke was guiding the learning process in his lessons, but some of the subject matter that he chose (teaching Who's in a Family, Tango Makes Three, and talking about the 6-year old hero from New Orleans), closely related to the his students' lives. Zeke was the one in charge, but he gave his students an active role in the classroom in a safe environment where they felt safe to share, listen, and learn.
Often times teachers (including myself), feel a constant need to be "in control." However, the Shor and August readings taught me that it's okay to relinquish a little of that control to my students once in awhile and give them a chance to guide the learning. As educators, if we encourage every student to have a voice in the classroom then hopefully the end result will be a feeling of empowerment by both the students and the teacher.