This summer, the Coalition to Defend Public Education here in Rhode Island held a book discussion on the new book Education and Capitalism, published by Haymarket Books. The discussion took place in five sessions, which generally included two retired teachers, two active veteran teachers, a newer teacher and a parent, as well as one or two other occasional participants. What follows is a summary of the discussions of the last two chapters of the book, on radical pedagogy, revolution and literacy. This summary chronicles the discussion that took place on August 14. Please feel free to add your own comments below!
(Please note: Due to my own absence, chapters 3 and 4 on Linguistic Justice and Obama’s Neoliberal Plan for Education will not be chronicled in these notes—though I intend to write reviews of these at some later point. Also, part 4, on Chapter 5 of the book, was discussed a week later—my next post will be the summary of that final discussion.)
Chapters 6 & 7 (pp. 187-242)
What do we think of the distinction between “banking” education and “dialogical” education? Where have we seen examples of both in our own experience?
- Every theorist we read about in my PhD program was in the book—i.e., all the Marxists who talk about dialogical education. Yet the stupid curriculum we’re forced to teach is purely along the lines of the banking model.
- That’s true in ELA and Math, but there’s more of an inquiry approach in science. And the students have trouble because they’ve been indoctrinated with the banking model. It’s hard to draw them into the idea that they have ideas.
- The Whole Language approach was more dialectical—though they went over the top with it.
- Whole Language was not implemented the way it was intended to be. (Conversation about this topic ensued.)
- Summer reading: there’s a dialogical impulse here, in that we want students to be reading and interacting with text, but how can you force children to read? That obligatory aspect destroys the dialogical impulse.
- Whole Language worked well with ELL adults because it connected with their experience, much as the Freedom Schools in the Civil Rights Movement worked well with adults. I still used phonics as well, because if you throw out the tools, you’re stopping the path to further advancement.
- The dialogical method has a class basis—it’s in the interests of the mass of the people. This doesn’t mean that you throw out the teaching of skills, just that the skills are taught for the end of self-emancipation of both teachers and students.
- There was discussion of the lack of critical thinking questions in the Common Core.
Is it possible for us to pose “limit-situations” to our students, for them to perform “limit-acts” aimed at achieving “untested feasibilities”? Or will this just get us fired?
- Students can be empowered, but if teachers “don’t have time” to empower students and validate their ideas, it’ll slow the process. There’s no time for students to make connections with “real-world problems”, despite all that teachers are directed to so do.
- It’s the business model of education reform: you have a project to work on for two weeks, the do your presentation, and done. That’s why they can put TfA people in the classroom—because you’re not teaching, it’s just a business project.
- An example of a “limit-situation”: At Del Sesto Middle School, a popular vice principal was being forced out, and the kids erupted. When it started, I gave them advice, not because I was prompting them to act, but because they were already moving into action and came to me for that advice. The kids boycotted breakfast and class, and just sat in the hallway and refused threats of discipline. They didn’t even go to lunch. The guy ended up keeping his job, and the kids stayed organized and started demanding thing. It got co-opted into some NGO-type thing, but it was an example.
- Another example: My first year when I got laid off, there was a picket line when I came to work. I was well-known in the community, and had a lot of people who would come out to support me among the parents. When the principal confronted me and asked me what I had done, I said I hadn’t done anything other than get laid off, I knew nothing about the picket line and he’d have to deal with it. I got my job back. It was 1972.
- Along the lines of teacher as advisor but not instigator, in the middle of the Iraq War, some students wanted to start an anti-war group. They sought me out because they knew I’d be sympathetic, and moreover, would validate the ideas they already had—instead of assuming they had no ideas or poorly informed ideas, etc.
- You can do it in small way, but the only way to pose a “limit-situation” is really if mass number of teachers take action. That’s why urban districts are so important—they have that critical mass of teachers that you don’t get in small suburban districts.
- As conditions change, people will change.
- Many teachers in schools today have never seen activism, unlike the layer of now-retired teachers who came of age in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-War movement of the ‘60s, etc. Many young teachers today have drunk the Kool-Aid.
- They don’t want veteran teachers who might question—or pose “limit-situations”.
What do we think about Freire’s notion that the teacher (or revolutionary leader) comes from a different class than the students? How would we respond to the passage on p. 203, “Our interests and those of our students—who in public school are also largely working class—are the same, both in and out of the classroom.”
- I agree with the statement—we have interests in common with our students, and against those of the administration (all levels) on up to the capitalist class. It’s actually important to assert this because it makes Freire’s dialogical model all that much more workable—and it’s closer to the reality that we live.
- I don’t agree. Well, I do and I don’t. My students’ lives (in Providence) are very different from mine (I grew up and live in a neighboring suburb). This wouldn’t be so true in a suburban district. It’s an impediment to my ability to get through to my students.
- Is this a contextual thing? In a socialist society, we’ll be in a classless society, where there’s no class or power distinction between teacher and student. But in Freire’s model, an agrarian society where urban, middle-class intelligentsia were trained as teachers of the peasants in the sugar growing regions, it was different.
- An example from a debate in the 1970s might illuminate: At one point, when it came to treatment of drug addicts, there was a school of thought that argued that only addicts could relate to (and treat) addicts, as opposed to the professionals (who were not addicts). In the end, the professionals won the debate—you don’t have to be an addict to treat an addict, but you do have to make a real effort to understand and be sympathetic to the struggles of the addict, without making a moral judgment. In the same way, it’s not necessary that you be from the same class in order to teach the people.
- I worked always in inner-city schools, but went to mostly-white Catholic schools. I was in shock about the lives of the kids in the schools where I taught, and came to understand them better over time, but it was a totally different world. You don’t have to be in the same class as the students, but you have to be open and not judgmental.
- In Providence, teachers do tend to come from a different background. [Note: in Providence Public Schools, some 88% of the teachers are white, but the same percentage of students are students of color.] But there’s the idea of the moral duty to join the oppressed, to support them in the struggle against the oppressor. Step #1 is don’t judge. That’s where we’re lacking in Providence, and it’s part of pitting us against each other. That’s how they divide parents vs. teachers.
- You have to learn from your students. You learn a lot about the world from them. Many teachers in Providence don’t learn from their students. When I worked in the pre-school program, I met many families, and you learn a lot from them.
- I don’t think I’m from a different class than my students, but I have had a lot of the comment, “Miss, you’re really white…” I haven’t had enough time to develop a rapport with my students. I come from a working class family, where I’m the first to have gotten a college degree. But, I’m white, and the majority of my students are not. You guys (the retired and active veteran teachers) talk about all this experience, but I don’t have that yet—and haven’t been allowed to settle in a school long enough to make those connections with my students.
- In summary: We as teachers really are working-class, and as such, we have interests in common with our students. But of course, we don’t share the same experiences as our students, and there are a number of other divisions (teacher/student, racial, urban/suburban) that have to be overcome through experience and through us as teachers making the effort to build solidarity with our students.
What are peoples’ thoughts on the revolutionary situations described in Chapter 7? What can we gain from studying the changes to education in revolutionary episodes? Can we imagine something like that happening in the US?
- All those examples cited in Chapter 7 were in very different times and places than the US today, but I agree that in a revolutionary situation, everything is intensified—when there’s a revolution, it will be a qualitative change in education because people will be liberated, and that will have an impact on schools.
- The situation we’re in now has to come to a head, but I question whether the resistance will become widespread enough to be national—aside from those who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, there a lot of fear.
- In Chicago, you had a group of people who managed to take over their union but also stay independently organized and in touch with the rank-and-file. There was the structure of the union there. If you can have insurgent groups taking over, if you have groups like the United Teachers of New Orleans, as cities become more radicalized you have an organization in place that can lead that radicalization to something bigger, to make a real change.
- Big upheavals have happened before—look at the upheavals of the Vietnam era. Things got changed as a result of campus sit-ins and teach-ins. That was one of our revolutionary moments, so to speak.
- The fact that we’re getting crushed is the biggest hope that there will be a revolution—I can’t see how you wouldn’t get angry enough to want to join a group. The Occupy movement is a small sign of the future. It’s not going to happen just in the schools.
- It’ll be in fits and starts.
- The worry I have for Providence is that City Hall and 797 [the Providence Public Schools Administration Building] are watching the Chicago Teachers’ Union more closely than we are.
On that note: PLEASE ATTEND our meeting in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union, on Thursday, August 30 at 6pm at the Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope St., Providence. We will have teacher activists from the Providence Teachers for a Democratic Union and the Network of Teacher Activist Groups, and we hope to have a Chicago teacher call in to the meeting. All are welcome!