My Classroom Manifesto
The following entry is from my Classroom Manifesto---a document that I present to and discuss with all of my students in the first week of class. Please share your thoughts below!
Education and Citizenship: Empowerment or Maintenance of the Status Quo?
What does it mean to be a citizen?
In our traditional public schools, many of us are taught that to be a citizen means to vote, volunteer, and give to charity. Of course, those acts are crucial to our society, but many believe that this is not enough. Those people argue that we should be empowering young people today with the skills to challenge injustices through political literacy. Political literacy means understanding the system of how decisions are made and ALSO understanding what you personally can do to influence and change those decisions. Again, while volunteer work is absolutely an important way of giving to those in need--many people believe that those first types of citizenry only work to maintain the status quo--or keep the system in place.
Who does the "status quo" benefit? Who has the power to create change? Who should have the power?
Many think that by:
- Teaching methods of activism
- Teaching about current events that are relevant to our lives
- Teaching young people to think critically about our culture, our government and or societal institutions and...
- By including youth in our decision making processes
…we will ultimately give the power back to the people (vs. having the power lie only in the hands of the the politicians, the corporations, the privileged, etc.). Some people believe that when students are taught that citizen participation is purely about charity and volunteerism, the emphasis is shifted away from teaching skills that allow people to create real change. Others believe that the government should be working harder to do the things that charities work for—i.e. feeding the homeless. Do you agree?
What is the purpose of education?
Some believe that the purpose of education is to prepare the youth for a job. Others believe that the purpose of education is to "become more human" or in other words to help us to reach our full potential. By strengthening our multiple gifts (vs. only our academic skills), we can be more whole, and more able to contribute to the world in a way that makes us happy.
What do you believe?
What do you think is the purpose of the education that you have received thus far in your life?
Paolo Freire was a very influential figure in educational theory. He worked with peasants in South America and wrote a lot about the power of education to lift people from oppression. He wrote:
"A humanizing education is the path through which men and women can become conscious about their presence in the world. The way they act and think when they develop all of their capacities, taking into consideration their needs, but also the needs and aspirations of others." (Freire and Frei Betto, 1985, 14-15)
In other words, he believed that education should encourage students to ask questions such as:
- What sort of society do we live in?
- What would it take for me to develop all of my talents and what would I use them for?
- What kind of society and world do we want to live in for the future?
- What can I and others do to change things and create that just future?
Paolo believed that students should, "come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation" (Freire, 1990:71).
This means that education is about questioning existing knowledge---in other words, learning to question answers instead of just answering questions. There are also four very important key points to the type of education that Freire promoted. They include:
- Power Awareness- Knowing that society and history can be made and re-made by human action and by organized groups.
- Critical Literacy: This is "questioning answers" bit. It means not always taking for truth what you read in a book, in the news, what you hear from your teacher or parents or politicians! Truth is complicated and it takes Critical Literacy skills to learn how to draw it out from multiple sources and multiple perspectives.
- De-socialization: This is similar to "questioning your assumptions." It means challenging the values, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs of mass culture/society.
- Self-Organization: Taking part in AND initiating social change projects.
Did your education include any of those skills/lessons? Do you think it should have? What would our schools and countries look like if this was what school was about? What would be the negative effects?
Freire also believed very strongly that no true learning could occur unless the students were actively involved. He spoke a lot about what he called the "banking" method of education, which he believed stifled creativity and critical thought. In banking style classrooms, Freire wrote that:
"Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are depositories (bank) and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher lectures--intending to depositinformation into what is thought of as an empty account--by which the students are supposed to patiently receive, memorize, and repeat..."
In the banking style of education knowledge is thought to only be held by those who consider themselves knowledgeable (the so-called expert, the teacher) to those whom they consider to know nothing.
In a Freire-based classroom, students are thought to walk into the school with wisdom and knowledge that is unique and to be respected by all-including the teacher. He coined the phrase "teacher/learner" because of his belief that because we are all living individual lives and have different ways of understanding-we all have something to teach each other.
In my classroom:
I believe... that we are all teacher/learners. Of course, there is a hierarchy present, but your participation in our class activities and discussion are absolutely crucial to the learning community for a successful education experience at Woolman.
I see myself... as a skilled facilitator--opening doors for young people to new possibilities for action, new visions for the future, and new understandings of the current world order.
I see you... as an inherently wise and experienced individual with a unique worldview that every single person in the classroom has the honor and the right to learn from.
I believe that the purpose of education is to make us more human and that means education that:
a.draws out our best attributes through learning new skills and new perspectives of the world
b. uses those skills and characteristics to create positive change for a more socially and environmentally just future
I believe that a side effect of “becoming more human” is that it puts us on a path towards finding a "right livelihood", work that is satisfying and is aligned with your moral convictions and vision for the world.
I agree wholly that ALL education is political, my classroom included. As Paolo Freire (1987) once wrote:
"This is a great discovery, education is politics! When a teacher discovers that he or she is a politician too, the teacher has to ask, What kind of politics am I doing in the classroom? That is, in favor of whom am I being a teacher? All teachers work in favor of something and against something."
I believe that ALL education is biased. If a teacher is presenting something to you and they say it is "objective", I believe there is a hidden agenda. Even in the presentation of multiple perspectives on a single topic, there is bias in the fact that this topic was chosen over so many others.
In my classroom, I aim to be upfront with my agenda. This agenda is to both offer multiple sides to issues and also to present a perspective that I believe is missing from most mainstream classrooms. I want to empower you to respectfully disagree with this perspective at any point. I will also push you to find facts/sources that support your opinions so that you can more strongly articulate yourself and either you will shift my perspective or we can agree to see things differently.
I believe that many education practices (NOT ALL) alienate students and promote an unhealthy level of competition with far less emphasis on skills for cooperation. This methodology is a cause and effect of our greater national and global systems which I believe are at the root of many of the social, political and environmental crises that we face today.
I also believe that some education practices are a form of "structural violence" and promote racism, sexism, militarism, and ethnocentrism.
I have great optimism for the future. I believe that if our education systems (both formal and informal) can empower people with the practical skills and self confidence for creating positive change from the inside out, then we can create a just and sustainable future where both natural and human worlds will not only SURVIVE, but THRIVE.
And the good news is that the journey towards that future will BE CREATIVE, QUIRKY, BRilliaNT AND FUN!!!!