EDU781SU

Critical Lessons & Educational Change

Hey Henry

Danielle Cowley

November 30, 2009

Introduction

I’ve chosen to write my public letter as an imagined pen-pal exchange with Henry Giroux. Giroux’s (2008) chapter really spoke to me this semester. He writes of how schools are failing to teach students through a critical democracy. He writes of the ways in which dominant views of schooling deskill teachers and fail to empower them. Not only does Giroux theorize on the current state of school and the teaching profession, but he also provides explicit instructions to teacher education programs. As a part of the teacher education community at Syracuse University, his words really resonated with me.

When looking back through the articles we read this semester, I was amazed at all of the notes I jotted in the margins of his article. This is a key indicator to me of the meaning of his words and the impression they made on myself as a current and future teacher educator. When re-reading my notes in the margins I realized that I would make comments or write questions, that he would later answer in the article. I felt an imagined pen-pal exchange would capture the textual “dialogue” that occurred during my reading of his chapter “Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling” in The Critical Pedagogy Reader (Giroux, 2008, pp. 438-459). Giroux’s “responses” (below, in italics) are taken from this chapter.

The Imagined Exchange

November 30, 2009

Hey Henry,

I wanted to tell you about one of my pre-service teachers and her experience teaching “Thanksgiving” in a 1st grade classroom. Teaching Thanksgiving is something our pre-service teachers don’t look forward to, as they are often forced to teach inaccurate history. Oftentimes their host teachers are uninterested in teaching Thanksgiving from multiple, controversial perspectives – it’s a risk they would rather not take.

This pre-service teacher was willing to take that risk. She examined myths and facts surrounding Thanksgiving, led students to question their understandings of pilgrim and Native American representations, and held high expectations for them. She took a stand and refused to mislead her students. She took a stand and refused to misrepresent cultural groups. She took a stand and opened the eyes of her students. She took a stand and embraced culturally responsive pedagogy. What do you think about the stand this young woman took?

Danielle

 

Danielle,

The development of curricula is increasingly left to administrative experts or simply adopted from publishers, with few, if any, contributions from teachers who are expected to implement the new programs. In its most ideologically offensive form, this prepackaged curriculum is rationalized as teacher-proof and is designed to be applied to any classroom context regardless of the historical, cultural, and socioeconomic differences that characterize various schools and students. What is important to note is that the deskilling of teachers appears to go hand-in-hand with the increasing adoption of management-type pedagogies.

– Henry Giroux

 

December 3, 2009

Hey Henry,

So many of our students are exposed to those “management-type pedagogies” in their field placements. Just today, I watched five pre-service teachers share their emerging philosophies. Words cannot describe how impressed I was with these young, emerging teachers. Many of them are placed in traditional classroom settings. Many of them provided these grade schoolers with some of their only exposure to engaging, constructivist teaching. Let me show you a little chart to give you an idea of what our emerging teachers are trying to do:

In Traditional Classrooms But, with our Emerging Teachers:
  • Student is pulled out for 1:1 ESL instruction;
  • Students are given a worksheet with a t-chart outlining goods v. services;
  • Students sit in their desks and read a chapter from their Scott Forsman Social Studies text about the different animals that inhabit the seven continents.
  • Student is provided sight word cards containing the following: (1)English word, (2) Ukrainian spelling, and (3) Visual representation;
  • Blank posters are placed on both sides of the classroom; one says goods, the other says services. Students must pick a visual representation of a good, skip to the poster, and Velcro it on;
  • Students take a trip to the zoo. They are given folders with a map of the world and explore the zoo in order to discover which animals live on which continents.

I’m excited for these bright, young teachers but feel my cynicism creeping in. Will their teaching philosophies change? Will they comply with the demands of conservative schools? Will they give in to the “pre-packaged curriculum?” Will these examples of engaging teaching moments fade? Who will they alienate and stigmatize? Or will they resist? Will they reform their schools? Will they be the agents of change I see them as now?

Danielle

 

Danielle,

Given the context in which teaching and learning are currently being defined, it becomes all the more necessary to insist on an alternative view of teacher education, one which, in refusing to passively serve the existing ideological and institutional arrangements of the public schools, is aimed at challenging and reforming them… As it presently stands, schools of education rarely encourage their students to take seriously the imperatives of social critique and social change as part of a wider emancipatory vision… The imperative… is to create conditions for student self-empowerment and self-constitution as an active political and moral subject. By “empowerment” I mean the process whereby students acquire the means to critically appropriate knowledge existing outside their immediate experience in order to broaden their understanding of themselves, the world, and the possibilities for transforming the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way we live.

– Henry Giroux

 

December 10, 2009

Hey Henry,

Well it sounds like our teacher preparation program is on the right track regarding “critique,” but I feel that we are failing them when it comes to those “taken-for-granted assumptions.”  Syracuse University’s School of Education takes a very radical view when it comes to educating students with disabilities. I’ve seen students truly change their minds and question their assumptions of students with disabilities. I’ve seen them write student profiles that highlight all the ways kids are seen as smart. Not just smart as positioned by dominant society (verbal-linguistic), but logically smart, musically smart, interpersonally smart, and bodily smart. I’ve seen them rethink behaviors in the classroom – repositioning kids who “talk out of turn” as demonstrating leadership; demonstrating a love of learning.

Changing assumptions regarding students with disabilities is working. But we are failing them in all the other ways that student are diverse. Students still believe in the myth of meritocracy. Students feel unjust practices in schools are only related to class, not race. But the problem isn’t that they don’t understand. They problem is that we aren’t giving them the tools to do this. We teach them that assessment is just as much about assessing students as it is about assessing yourself as a teacher. As teacher educators, we must live that philosophy. If students don’t see themselves as agents of change, we’ve failed them. If students don’t challenge assumptions about race, ability, class, sexuality, we’ve failed them. It’s time for us as teacher educators to change. It’s time for us to take the risk. It’s time for us to be uncomfortable.

Danielle

 

Danielle,

As part of a pedagogy of possibility, student experience provides the basis for analyzing the social forms that reconstruct the subjective character of the stories, memories, and meanings that are in place when students come to schools. A critical pedagogy in this instance encourages a critique of dominant forms of knowledge and social practices… It attempts to provide students with the critical knowledge and skills necessary for them to examine their own particular lived experiences and cultural resources.

– Henry Giroux

References

Giroux, H. A. (2008). Teacher education and democratic schooling. In A. Darder, M. P.  Baltodano, & R. Torres (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (2nd ed., pp. 438-459). NY: Routledge.