Why We Do It
Education is the practice of assisting people to find agency in, and responsibility for, the struggle for freedom.
–Peter C. Murrell, Jr.
To fully understand the work of Teaching for Change and the context in which we work, we draw upon excerpts from several thoughtful pieces written on social justice and education. Together, these writings paint a picture of the field we work in and, most importantly, the issues we confront.
By Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey (Teaching for Change, 1998)
We believe that multicultural education should help students, parents, teachers, and administrators understand and relate to the histories, cultures and languages of people different from themselves. But multicultural education must be much more than that. It must be transformative: it must encourage academic excellence that embraces critical skills for progressive social change. Therefore, multicultural education must:
- instill the importance of academic excellence;
- examine the history and underlying causes of racism and its institutional features;
- teach the connections between racism and other forms of inequality;
- analyze the ways in which education, as an institution of our society, has supported and perpetuated racism;
- teach how racism hurts both peoples of color and white people, and prevents us from being effective allies;
- show how white people and peoples of color throughout history have indeed worked together, and celebrate those efforts;
- provide opportunities to collectively envision just and fair schools, communities and the larger society; and,
- inspire and empower us to do the necessary work to make those visions come true.
By Wayne Au, Bill Bigelow, Stan Karp (Rethinking Schools, 2007)
Rethinking Our Classrooms begins from the premise that schools and classrooms should be laboratories for a more just society than the one we now live in. Unfortunately, too many schools are training grounds for boredom, alienation, and pessimism. Too many schools fail to confront the racial, class, and gender inequities woven into our social fabric. Teachers are often simultaneously perpetrators and victims, with little control over planning time, class size, or broader school policies—and much less over the unemployment, hopelessness, and other “savage inequalities” that help shape our children’s lives.
But Rethinking Our Classrooms is not about what we cannot do; it’s about what we can do. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire writes that teachers should attempt to “live part of their dreams within their educational space.” Classrooms can be places of hope, where students and teachers gain glimpses of the kind of society we could live in and where students learn the academic and critical skills needed to make it a reality. We intend the articles in Rethinking Our Classrooms to be both visionary and practical; visionary because we need to be inspired by each other’s vision of schooling; practical because for too long teachers have been preached at by theoreticians, well removed from classrooms, who are long on jargon and short on specific examples. Continue reading.
By Paulo Freire (Continuum, 1970, 2000)
… A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals itself its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.
The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration—contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.
The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power. “Four times four is sixteen; the capital of Pará is Belém.” The student records, memorizes, and repeats these phrases without perceiving what four times four really means, or realizing the true significance of “capital” in the affirmation “the capital of Pará is Belém,” that is, what Belém means for Pará and what Pará means for Brazil.
Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely he fills the receptacles, the better a teacher he is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, men cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existence—but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.
The raison d’etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.