Thursday, December 1, 2016

Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change

"You must arouse children's curiosity and make them think about school. For example, it's very important to begin the school year with a discussion of why we go to school. Why does the government force us to go to school" - Bettelheim

       This quote immediately jumped out to me after I read it. Right away I thought of my eighth grade English Class. On the first day of class the teacher, Mr. Desaulniers introduced the class with the question "Why?". For the first week of class he focused on the idea of us questioning everything we do. He asked us questions like, "Why do we go school?" and  "Why did we cover this subject to help us learn about _____?" and he always challenged our questions and reasoning. Bettelhiem argues that it is important to establish a classroom like this because it shows the students that you trust their intellectual ability enough to form their own ideas and answers. Which creates a safe and inviting academic environment.  She ends her reasoning with "A school year that begins by questioning school could be remarkably democratic and a critical learning experience for students". This quote means that Bettelhiem believes; that by creating an environment that challenges even the foundation of education, it will create a better learning experience for students.  I completely agree with this approach, Mr. Desaulniers established a classroom built around the idea of questioning, and from this it created a very social environment. He refused desks, and  all of the students sat at big tables around the room. I remember in class one time he read an article about the Salem Witch Trials, and three factors that could have created the hysteria in the town. He asked us to think, and he wanted us to challenge all three ideas in our mind and share which one we thought and why. From his class I remember "Eureka" moments, times were that light bulb would go off. And me always being so excited to share my opinions in class. By being in a classroom that allowed us students to question and form our own conclusions, we were inspired and excited to share our findings. He created educational discussions and reflections between students.  Since I have had other classrooms also set up like this, I believe our FNED class could fall under the same catogry. These classes are always my favorite, and I find them most engaging. 
"To Educate is to adapt the child to an adult social environment... The child is called upon to receive from outside the already perfected products of adult knowledge and morality...From such a point of view, even the most individual kinds of tasks performed by students (writing an essay, making a translation, solving a problem) partake less of the genuine activity of spontaneous and individual research...The students' inmost morality remains fundamentally directed towards obedience rather than autonomy" - Piaget
      I apologize in advance for my lack of professionalism, but I chose this quote for two reasons. The first because it is the counterargument for this article, and second because it kind of pissed me off. Piaget's ideas of adapting children to an adult social environment is almost exactly opposite of Bettelhiem's. Piaget believes that in order to help students to successfully adapt to this environment teachers must practice "restraint and imposition in the socializing function of schools". Piaget's classroom takes away the opportunity for students to have the "Eureka" moment I talked about in the last paragraph. Piaget's classroom, to me, reflects the idea of "monkey see, monkey do". In order to try to better understand the ideologies I tried to imagine myself as a student in two classrooms based off both perspectives. I feel that in a classroom taught by Piaget I would pass, but it would be tough. I feel that I would bullshit my way through assignments. I would find the classroom environment  very uninviting, and boring. I feel that in a classroom like that I would not actually learn and grasp greater concepts. To me that classroom is no better than copying and pasting. After reading Piaget's perspective it reminds me of the classic book "1984", where people are dehumanized and obedient. Their emotions are controlled and they taught not to challenge institution. And well... we know how that ends. We see that Piaget's limits potential and personal growth. I think Piaget believes this because he was taught in a "Pro-SCWAAMP" environment. Piaget wrote this in 1979, meaning he grew up in an American society that looked down on "out of the box thinking", and feared it, because it was different. And that could mean change.

"In a curriculum that encourages student questioning, 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. Empowered students make meaning and act from reflection, instead of memorizing facts and values handed to them." - Shor
       This quote strongly argues that Bettelhiem's system of teaching creates a better learning experience and allows more opportunity, rather than one that emphasizes the "restraint and imposition in the socializing function of schools". I chose this as my final quote because it challenges Piaget's point of view and almost concludes the argument simply and supported.  It directly tells us that by creating an  environment that questions learning, it allows students to develop more intellectually and socially. She explains that by having a learning environment that encourages students to question their experience in school, they become empowered learners. I can personally tell you that I learn more classes I am empowered to think in. Teachers do not sit down and pick between these two styles of teaching when making a lesson plan. And they do not all start class with the "Why?". Instead I feel that these questioning moments that Bettelhiem explains are moments in the classroom where the teacher allows the students to have the opportunity to have time to think, create,  discuss and share their own intellectual conclusions.

       So I realized that all three of my quotes were from the beginning of the text, and this wasn't because I was being lazy. I felt that Shor established her argument early on in the text very directly, and used the rest of the chapter as her reasoning. When I read the articles for class, I try and think of a simple big takeaway from the text. And from this text I feel that take away is: That by allowing questioning in the classroom you create better learning opportunities for students. But after thinking outside the box a little bit more I think ultimately that Shor is supporting the idea we discussed in class about Oakes and Finn. A class that is socially structured (examples: class wide discussions, group work, etc.) is a far better learning environment than a class that does fill in the blank worksheets every class.
      For anyone who actually got my outside of the box reasoning, I'm attaching the trailer to the movie "Pleasantville". I feel that Piaget's style of teaching is represented as "the black and white" way of life. And that Bettelhiem's system is represented as "the color" in the film. It's a little out there, but really think about that for minute....

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