Naming the World…

Upon completing my reading of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed my heart was heavy. His words crept into my soul. I wept.

 I had to sit and find the root of those tears.

It brought me right to my experience as a professional in our province. Freire wrote, “[Dialogue] is an act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one man by another” (p.158). As teachers, we are the oppressed. We are the result of crafty dialogues which dominate. I have never felt that the dialogue that was so benevolently offered was genuine; that it didn’t have a predetermined outcome, that it wasn’t a set word which had opportunity for renaming (p.157).

The heaviness of the oppression sat deep within me as I read parts of the BC Ed Plan.  You need only to look at the introductory section on effective teaching. One might think this initial conversation would share with readers how valuable and integral teachers are and recognize their important role in delivering and shaping the curriculum being proposed. I certainly thought that it would share an action plan of supports that would be put in place to assure effective practice, but I didn’t expect this version,  “…this Plan will address widely-shared concerns about how our province’s teaching profession has been regulated. It will make sure teacher regulation protects both students and the public interest.” (BC Ed Plan, 4) Put aside the insinuation that we are currently not doing an effective job, what about the protection for teachers?

And, why is there a discussion about discipline in a formative document about curriculum? Crafty dialogue.

With further introspection I realised that Freire was triggering something else I have been wrestling with throughout my career. He named for me a dialogue that I have been having about how we shape our students’ acceptance and experience in our schools. How do we create a true community where every student is valued?

It brings me back to my on-going quest to ask and answer, WHY? If our why is to support and shape students who are confident, prepared, critical thinkers then why are schools naming their worlds on behalf of them? As Freire states, “…it must not be a situation where some men name on behalf of others. (158)

I’m especially drawn to our oppressed; our students who are already marginalized.

How are we are creating a school community which invites them in? And this invite does not rest on charity, because charity is only perpetuating the oppression. It’s us telling them that WE know how to solve the problem for them; that WE can determine how they can be included.  

What we do need to do, as Freire suggests, is shape our school’s curriculum, with humility, love, hope and faith and with an honest dialogue, to assure that our students can shape their transformation.

I will not be silent.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but I hate this word

It sends shivers down my spine.

It’s something I’m expected to do.

Not only that, it’s taken for granted that it’s something I believe in.

I know, I know Dewey. Yes, I hear ya Eisner.

The student is at the centre of the curriculum.

And mine are. I consider their needs. I build a classroom library that is rich with books they love. I differentiate. I conference. I embrace their interests and include them in our learning.

What I don’t do it start a lesson, or a unit, asking myself, “How am I going to engage my students?”

That is looking at HOW. It’s not looking at WHY.

And this is why the term engagement sends me off in frenzy.

Of course I want to engage my students. I want them to be invested. I want them to be involved, physically and mentally. Through careful planning and consideration of who my students are, engagement is a result, not a hook.

But, I have started to see the word engagement as something we do to trick them into learning. It a toy, it’s a gadget, it’s an iPad, it’s the latest and greatest website or Web 2.0 tool. I’m asked, “How are you engaging your students?”

Which leads me to the root of my problem with the word engagement…technology and engagement.
It came to me mid-way through the school year. I was part of an action research group that was looking at IPad use in Math. We had a question (shhh…another secret, I helped to develop the question) that went something like, How will using IPads in Math help to engage our students and increase their basic math skills?
I started fielding questions about how engaged my students must be because we had IPads in our class. And then one day it dawned on me. It wasn’t about the IPads. It was about the needs of the students. I really wanted to help them improve their basic math understanding. The IPad was just another method to get them to that goal. The IPad was just the modern day flash card!
Then, inspired by our class discussions and shaping my understanding of 21st Century Literacy, I stumbled upon this…
courtesy of
YES! Thank you! I couldn’t agree more.

Is engagement important for 21 century literacies? You bet.

Will technology bet part of that? Absolutely.

Will it be a means of demonstrating learning in a developmentally, socially relevant way? I hope so.

Will it give students a chance to “see” themselves in their learning? For sure.

Will it be used to hook them into learning? I hope not.

Teaching as a Metaphor

Like a highway, I am concrete. I like structure. I need to see my destination. I’m comforted by parameters. Yet, like a meandering country lane, I like to take my time. I’m okay with changing my direction even though it might take me a little longer to reach my target.
Being asked to define my understanding of curriculum metaphorically presented some intellectual
conflict. The concrete thinker in me immediately went to the bible of teachers in BC – the IRP’s. But, my opposing side questioned its dogmatic specifications and seriously pondered the array of alternatives. Building on this conflict, reading Egan’s early writings on curriculum did little to help me answer my questions on who defines curriculum and instead posed a new debate – the roles of content and methodology in curriculum. But, more on this conundrum later…

Just as I can personally relate to the paths that take us on a journey, I see curriculum as a road map; a laid out plan that is both defined yet invites interpretation.
Looking at a map, we see the interconnect dots showing us the cities and towns which define the constructed geography. In educational terms these are our outcomes. Just as groups before us established these settlements, curriculum developers through time have determined the outcomes and standards which we must teach to. However, I am not so pragmatic as to see these markers, or goals, as only created by a higher power of curricular knowledge. Through a more practical and personal lense, I know that our destinations are often defined by the travelers – our students.

The numerous roads and highways that connect the cities and towns represent the paths that we take to reaching the goals. At times a traveler has no choice over how they will get to their destination – it’s all up to the driver. This is often the case for our students. Some teachers may travel a linear or well-worn path; one which has got them safely to that same location time and time again. Others may find that they are working on intuition. They have a keen sense of direction and are able to navigate through the obstacles or opportunities which are presented along their journey. In our classrooms and schools, these obstacles and opportunities are constantly arising. Availability of resources, student interests, ranges in students’ social, emotional and academic needs and readiness, district demands, professional development, community involvement and parental requests constantly affect the routes we take.

This naturally leads to how we navigate these roads. Selecting a mode of travel is a choice perhaps made of necessity or one made out of curiosity or a sense of adventure. The many options presented for our mode of transportation represent the methodology of our instruction. Like choosing a path to get to a destination, the choice you make in how you are going to get there is deeply affected by the same obstacles and opportunities. The pressures of time and content often leave teachers feeling like they must find the most efficient and expedient methods of instruction. However, teachers may choose to pilot their instruction based on the demands and requests of their travelers.
As I mentioned, maps are interpretive; where you come from always influences how you decipher the map.
This leaves me at my personal cross-road. I take comfort in Franklin Bobbit’s enduring influence on the establishment of defined learning goals within our curriculum. Yet, as a reflective and caring teacher I embrace the curiosity and needs of my students and use that to shape the course of our class. While I believe this is essential for establishing and reaching goals and outcomes, I still find a need to balance the individual and societal demands when shaping and creating curriculum.
As for the what versus how debate presented by Kieran Egan in his article What is Curriculum I am left with a bigger question which I must continue to explore – how much should methodology really be placed within curriculum? As I illustrated in my metaphor, the methodology of instruction is so connected to the dynamic and fluid contexts which we teach in. I find it hard to prescribe instructional methods when the choices we have to make can change daily.

I must admit, I am intrigued by all these questions and the path I’m on in connecting the past and looking towards the future. It has built upon a journey that began for myself and my colleagues this year as we put aside the who and the what and how and asked ourselves – why? But, that story is for another day.