Friday, November 14, 2008

"Education is an act of love, thus an act of courage.” Paolo Freire

A friend of mine who was a SMACer several years ago told me that Paolo Freire used to be included in MAC reading lists. A brief explanation of his philosphy is available here: Freire

Having spent around 20 hours on my text analysis, which I experienced to be a demoralizing and frustrating assignment with few practical applications, I am wondering why we don't spend a little time reading and talking about the more inspiring and motivating writing out there on education. Perhaps the accusations that the MAC program was too theoretical and not practical enough led to the cutting down of philosophy readings? Personally, I think I would have much more use for philosophy right now than just about anything else. At a time when I've heard many of my colleagues questioning their reasons for teaching, I don't think even strategies to help struggling readers will be a useful tool for making bright, creative, educated people into dedicated, effective teachers if we don't have a reason for developing that commitment, a larger purpose. Just as you have to be prepared to make a powerful argument to any high school student as to why they should spend hours of their youth studying your discipline, I think that we who are studying teaching need to be reassured, need rationalizations and justifications for spending the enormous amount of energy that teaching (not to mention this program!) requires.

So this is my call for a philosophy of education component to the MAC program. It would be nice if everyone entering this program was already totally committed and hooked, totally sure that our decision to pursue teaching is a step towards what we want out of life. But that's simply not the case. Like Eugenie mentioned in one of our Foundations classes, even out of the people who get master's degrees in education not many stay in teaching long. While some of us have come to this as a second career and/or have reflected deeply on the purpose of education, others of us are trying to find out whether this is a path we're willing to take, are learning as we go, and need some context for this big profession we're peering into this year. Obviously right now all of us are really in it, talking about how much we love our kids and what good strategies are for getting them involved, making sure they're getting the most out of us. But I would argue that we also need a rationale beyond a degree to continue beyond a degree. And I know that Dewey and hooks and Freire are keeping me in it much more than any substantive conversation assignment.

Here is Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed
or for those who are scared of reading something from a Marxist website :), here are some hooks quotes from Teaching to Transgress from a blog I've recently discovered.


Kristen said...

I completely agree Chloe - coming to this program I was expecting a lot of theoretical/philosophical learning, however, I have been disappointed at the lack of it. Of course there needs to be a balance of philosophy and practical knowledge, but the philosophy would give us a stronger foundation upon which to build our practice. As I am realizing more and more how much work teaching is (we will probably be just as busy next year!), I want to also make sure that this career will be worth it! So far I am thinking it is, but there are days when I have doubts! I look forward to reading that chapter, if I get the chance. thanks for the non-marxist website! lol ;)

Chloe Root said...

Thanks, Kristen. You said exactly what I'm feeling - I love being in the classroom when I'm there and am pretty sure based on that experience that teaching is a very worthwhile (if exhausting!) profession, but what I'm getting in the program is less than inspiring. I definitely appreciate the practical strategies when we get them (ala our methods class or ed tech), but aside from the assignment from Eugenie's class we haven't talked at all about why we're doing what we're doing. It's not that I need someone to prove to me that teaching is worthwhile, I just want to be intellectually supported in pursuing it, rather than exhausted doing exercises that seem meaningless to me.

When (or if, I should say - I hardly do anything outside of the program work right now) you do get a chance to read that chapter, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. We've hardly talked about the purpose of education, and I'm not set in my own educational philosophy yet, so I hope that we can have some sort of a discussion as a cohort about the bigger picture.

msauter said...

I very much agree with you, Chloe, of the importance of a philosophical grounding for teaching. Any art has its own ideas and principles that inform it, make it intelligible, and give it an end goal. I had thought that MACers were tired of too much theory! For my part, I am largely tired of useless theory.

The tricky part about philosophy is that it can be so very divisive. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a program that values diversity and tolerance, and it potentially could foster some productive discussion. "One's philosophy" is a rather personal thing, as opposed to a critical, "objective" study of philosophical thought. The two can and should be combined, for philosophy, as you said, should inform our practice. I would just hope that if such perspectives as Freire's were assigned for reading, that a contrary view were also assigned. This certainly doesn't need to be along "conservative" and "liberal" lines, at least in the artificial political sense. Of course, this program has already established itself on a particular philosophy (sociocultural, constructivism, etc.), and it has seemed to be little interested in presenting more than a few different perspectives.

Jeff Stanzler said...

Chloe, your very inspiring post (as well as Mike and Kristen's responses) leave me thinking about reading about ideas and acting upon them. Friere, I think, would wish that schooling would lead to an enhanced sense of agency on the part of our students, and in turn lead to action. Taking action, in the spirit of what *you* are doing here. You've identified a domain that isn't getting the attention that it might, and you've taken matters into your own hands (a most honorable use for this blog, by the way!) So, rather than take too much time making statements about the challenge of finding appropriate room for "theory" and "practice" (and the even more important challenge of tracing the interplay and overlap between the two), let me ask what the analogue of what you're discussing here is for Ms. Root's (or Mr. Sauter's or Ms. Yackey's) classroom? What does this issue remind you of, make you think about, challenge you to work through as you contemplate the start of your own teaching? What, in short, do you want to put on the agenda along with US History, or whatever else it is that's in your formal curriculum? Ivan Illich talks about formal and informal curriculum, and I'm asking you to think about the latter--all the things we teach as we endeavor to teach Chemistry, or German, or African literature. What you teach by *how* you do things, or what you pause your lecture to attend to, or the "digressions" you allow, or those you don't. What you teach by your priorities and what you teach by how you enact your beliefs about how people learn best.
In a perfect world there would be more time for that, maybe less for this, or maybe enough for everything. I'd like to get there, but whatever happens, you can't get away from the challenge of making *your* perfect world, or at least trying to reach for it even if you don't yet know quite what it is, or where to find it.
Agency brings its own complications, right? You've got to figure out what the answers are, and then figure it out again, and once more.
...and the cool thing is, they're going to pay YOU to figure all that out! Not a bad deal, eh??

Jennifer said...

Wow Chloe! Thank you for the link about Freire; the quote you have included is especially powerful. I've been wrestling with the extremes we have been exposed to about teaching as a society for the past few days... weeks... years. Either the occupation of teaching teaching is associated with carpe diem! moments or moments complete neglect and failure. And I agree a philosophy component would be an enlightening addition to some of the theory that we are currently learning. We talk much about struggling readers and possible ways to help them, but I think talking about how to create a sense of agency within our students would help a great deal. Empowerment and a sense of belief cannot be discounted; I see so many students who have given up because it seems they believe they cannot succeed. And wasn't Dewey a fascinating guy? I'd love to have an entire class devoted to the history of the development of school systems in the United States or even the world! Imagine how comprehensive that would have to be!

Chloe Root said...

Jen, Jeff, Mike,

Thanks for the variety of affirmations, feedback and conversation - I wish we had more time for this sort of thing in our classes!

Mike, I completely agree. While this program has presented itself as in line with a particular philosophy, I've had trouble even finding how socioculturalism or constructivism fit in in its current form - as you said, not tired of theory, just hungry for some useful theory. I'd also like to be exposed to a wider range of ed theory - and I agree, the nice thing about theories of education is that they don't always break down along such stark political lines, and when they do, just imagine what interesting discussions we could have. I thought our "Education for Democracy" reading in Methods was a good discussion starter in that direction... I felt that my own points of agreement and disagreement with that article were more productive than most of the other scholarship we've read. Also, do you think there is a distinction to be made between theory and research? I think a lot of what we have been reading falls more along the lines of research with very little theory involved.

I remember you mentioning that you studied philosophy in undergrad - what sort of philosophy are you most interested in?

Jeff, thanks. I appreciate your encouragement to make sure that my value for the "why" of things is cultivated in my classroom - way to turn my frustration into something constructive! Even reading your short description of teaching as being paid to work towards your perfect world makes me feel much more motivated than the last few months of classes. Let me ask you, what are some of the thinkers that you have found helpful in developing your teaching? I appreciated that in ed tech we started with Dewey and why each of us chose teaching, and I was wondering what your answer to that question would be.

Jen, I also wish we had a little more history, although I thought Eugenie's class was a nice start - of course being a History and Gender Studies major in undergrad I have a strong belief that history and theory are inextricable. That's also why I agree that empowerment (not to be confused with coddling) is an important goal for educators; public school has so often in our history been treated both as a stage for playing out societal struggles and on the other hand as a mass daycare that I think the least we can do for our students is help them develop the tools to have agency and a sense of empowerment in their own lives. Wow, long sentence.

I hope to continue this conversation with all of you - thanks for sharing your thoughts!


msauter said...

I too thought that "Education for Democracy" was an excellent discussion piece. One other profitable discussion occurred, I think, during the Socratic seminar. Also, I encountered this division between research and theory in my Debate paper. I was able to find a lot of "objective" social science studies, but had a harder time finding authors who took a more theoretical/philosophical approach, i.e. arguing from principles rather than from statistics, observations, etc.

Another distinction could be made between political works on education and idealistic (in the best sense of the word) ones. Too often an author proposing a thesis on education places his assertions in a politically charged context - as a "liberal" or "conservative" - and integrates his or her arguments with all of the appropriate rhetoric and "hot-button" words for one side or the other. Instead of writing as a philosopher of education, the author becomes a Democrat or Republican, or a Socialist or Capitalist, promoting particular educational policies. This is probably due to the largely political nature of education today in the U.S. I would hope that theorists today would be able to transcend a purely political context (unless education is indeed a merely political phenomenon) and ground it in principles of religion or philosophy.

stephanie s said...

i love the quote in your title!! this idea truly gives meaning to teaching. the simplicity is extremely refreshing and empowering. thanks for sharing :)

Rebekah said...

This is a perfect example of why I love reading what you have written (and listening to what you have to say). Inspiring, interesting, invigorating! I rarely have more to say than, "Yeah, what Chloe said" but most of the time, like in this case, it works.
So yeah, I agree.

Jeff Stanzler said...

Chloe, I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. A partial explanation for my being so slow is that I've thought a lot about your request, and though I wanted to cite a couple of other philosophers, you asked about *my* philosophy of teaching, and the truth is that practitioners have been more of an inspiration for me. I came into teaching because of a great experience I had as a teen working in a day care center, and you know enough about me now to know that I see play and learning as being closely related. Perhaps because of that, and because I'm a sucker for good stories, I love the work of Vivian Gussin Paley. She is an early childhood educator, and is one of the pioneers of teacher action research, which involved a conscious effort to record and explore one's own practice. The spirit of the best of action research is not a presentation claiming *this* is what teaching is, but an honest attempt to capture one's lived experience. In her stories, Paley is often the one who is being taught by her young charges, as the kids are determinedly honest, and demand the same from any teacher who tries to understand them on their own terms.
I've liked everything of hers that I've read, but I'll suggest "Bad Guys Don't Have Birthdays" as a good exemplar of her action research work, and "Kwanzaa and Me" because of its candid exploration of race (as commenced in what is her best known work, "White Teacher") and also because of the way in which it details her intriguing efforts to expand her students' learning community (and her own), most notably by explicitly including parents.
Since you asked me about thinkers that I've found helpful, I'll ask your indulgence and share a recent encounter. This summer I read Garret Keizer's "No Place But Here: A Teacher's Vocation in a Rural Community" (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1988). If you want to enjoy some beautiful writing and inspiring thinking about our profession (along with a little reality check for those of us who are more urban than rural) you could hardly do much better.

Here's a favorite passage, in a chapter on Courtesy in which he talks about how his kids are more courteous than he thinks they're given credit for, and makes the assertion that, as with so many things in the classroom, our students learn from what we do and not what we say:

"The teacher who would make his or her classroom a school for courtesy must remember that not only is he or she its chief exemplar, but also that he or she is very likely to be its first violator...
I try to make my point in simple things. I avoid sharing anything with a class that a student would want shared with himself or herself alone. I avoid writing comments on top of a student's writing, or putting a grade on top of a student's name. We work one-to-one, not one-on-one. I ask permission before quoting from a composition, before tearing a page out of a student's notebook or looking at any page therein. I try to be certain that no student stands for any length of time while I sit. And when I have observed all of these minutiae, only to offend on a grosser scale, I apologize, privately if the offense was private, publicly if public. Sometimes I am led to wonder if there are kids in my class who have been compelled to say "I'm sorry" hundreds of times but who have hardly ever had the same said to them." (p. 50) Keizer's book is quite literally chock full of such seemingly simple, but richly meaningful observations.

chloe said...

Wow, thanks, Jeff. I really love that excerpt and appreciate that you found just the sort of thing I have been looking for: "theory" or "philosophy" that is guiding rather than proscriptive, and like you said, firmly rooted in practice. I really like bell hooks' work for that same reason and it seems like Keizer might be a kindred practitioner.

It's funny, because I felt resistant for a minute to the idea of "*this* is what teaching is" being somehow inferior, most likely because I've been hungry for some explicit ingredients to what makes good teaching. After reading your whole post I see exactly how important the attitude of the practitioners you're talking about is - it is clear that they are looking to share what they humbly think is best practice (via insights or mistakes they've made) rather than to make pronouncements about what other people are doing wrong.

Thanks for the post that is so rich in ideas and resources – it was well worth the wait!

chloe said...

P.S. Jeff, your post also got me thinking about something my friend Lida said when we were reading ed theory in our philosophy of education class. She said that useful theory is kind of like a garlic supplement pill - you might get some of the distilled nutritional benefits of garlic from taking it, but all it is is condensed, real bulbs, which represent experience. The experience of eating real garlic, tasting it, learning how to use it, is much different from taking the pills, and has been proven to be more efficacious.

The emphasis in literature on (and your inspiration from it) made me think about the purpose of theory/philosophy and how where it comes from (the classroom vs. someone's ideas about education minus classroom experience) affects the nature of the writing. It's funny that even while I have been frustrated about some professors' lack of classroom wisdom I have been looking for some kind of foolproof philosophy... Thanks for making me think about that.

Jeff Stanzler said...

I like your friend's analogy to a garlic supplement pill, Chloe...I think you've got something there.
I also don't want to be glib in my response to the wish that I think *all* of us have, at some level, to get the "here's how" kind of information. When I think about the art of teaching, we're surely talking about both method and content/curriculum that is *grounded in* careful attention to who our students are and to who we are as teachers. For me, this is where the wish for the "here's how" method runs aground a bit, simply because, as Parker Palmer put it, "we teach who we are." Even in someone else's classroom, using lots of someone else's lessons, some of your most important research work over the next six months will be to pay careful attention to what's important to you as a teacher, what you want to model, what brings you the most satisfaction in your work, etc. Not so that your teaching becomes a self-indulgent thing, but so that you can be as true to yourself as possible, to find your own subjectivity--that will be the starting point for your best work, I think, and it will also increase the likelihood that someone with your talent will stay in the profession for a while.
The late philosopher Richard Rorty wrote that rather than seeking some ‘neutral ground’ of objectivity, we would be well served to recognize the power of our subjectivity, stating that “in respect to words as opposed to deeds, persuasion as opposed to force, anything goes” and contending that “a liberal society is one which is content to call ‘true’ whatever the upshot of such encounters turns out to be.” (Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, p. 52).

Stephanie said...

You hanging in there? How are things this semester? How goes the planning for your unit? I hope everything is going well and with not too much stress. Let me know if you want to have a unit planning party at some point. I'd also be down with a grading party, a homework party, or any party involving cup cakes =o)

Maria said...

Wow Chloe. Thank you so much for creating your entry. First, I had never heard of Paolo Freire and am so happy that you are sharing his works with us! Also, I agree that it would be nice to have a change from the more technical works we have been reading about in our classes, and look at a little philosophy! I have found myself so busy with assignments and staying on track with teaching and lesson planning that I tend to forget to take in the moment and reflect a little on my experiences (aka - develop my personal philosophy for teaching!)

I especially found Paolo Freire's second chapter to be so interesting because we are student teachers. He talks about the roles played by the teacher and that of the students, but I constantly find myself in a completely different role as student teacher. I find that I am learning everyday while trying to "act the role" of teacher (and continuously/simultaneously learning what that role is about!) The conflicting roles tend to become exhausting at times. However, when I reach this point, I remember that "education is an act of love, thus an act of courage" and I continue to move forward in our student-teaching adventure :)

Your entry was so refreshing - So thank you again. You have helped to push me further into discovering and thinking about my personal teaching philosophy.

Have a good week!