Uncommon Sense

About two months after the Canadians set the White House on fire, the Gorhka War started in October of 1814.

The Gorhka War pitted the Nepalese Kingdom against the British Empire, the latter party eager to assimilate the mountainous regions of Nepal because they wanted to shave goats in order to could pay off pensions to old English men who needed money for dental bills.

Comedy aside, this means that Nepal is one of the few countries that the British never successfully colonized. This seemed strange to me, reading Kumashiro’s The Problem of Common Sense. The author talks of a rote-centred classroom where memorization, rigidity, and respect are the status quo. He approaches their system with dreams of collaboration, active participation, and discussion, soon burning his waxy wings.

Following a limbo of attitude towards advances in education from 1950-1951, the rulers of Nepal finally ceded to “the rising demands of the people for decency, education, and their fundamental rights” (Wood, 1965, p. 10). Soon after this, a strong social movement pushed the government into a “rapid expansion of education,” many schools opening swiftly and “without adaquete planning” (Wood, 1965, p. 10).

Absorbing a few pages from The Development of Education in Nepal, I quickly learned why Kumashiro encountered such acerbity and dryness in Nepalese pedagogy. The curriculum was designed to be published quickly amidst the expansion of the education system. It was not designed to instruct.

Madeleine Grumet said that curriculum is “what the older generation chooses to tell the younger generations” (1988). It shows our children “what we choose to remember about our past, what we believe about the present, what we hope for the future” (Grumet, 1988). Kumashiro’s “assignment . . . was to introduce schools to different and presumably more effective ways to teach” (2004, p. XXXI). What Kumashiro does not grasp is the Nepali view of common sense. Living in Nepal, on the opposite side of the globe as North America, in a place where your status and career in society is pre-determined, where your chance of becoming formally educated are slim (there are roughly 18 people for each post-secondary school in Canada, in Nepal there are roughly 201,500 people), and where most work in agriculture or labour, a critical Western education is unimportant.

This is a problem I have with the current school system in our backyard–its tendency to assert uncommon sense when it comes to students’ futures. I graduated with a broad mix of sweating, grinning teenagers on that warm June afternoon. We all sat there in our large, black robes like a visiting choir. Underneath we were future techies, parents, athletes, tradesmen, and also normal people paying bills.

What most of us did not know then, while we were too busy sweating beneath our tassels, was the fact that one day we would have to find out what an income bracket is, how to pay taxes so the government doesn’t arrest us, how to fix a wall plug and how to stretch fifty dollars to survive two weeks. I wasn’t ready to enter the low-income bracket when I went to university. Most kids weren’t, and I guess that’s what student loans are for.

As an educator, I will look back on the lessons I’ve learned about the transmission of (un)common sense, as a sort of curriculum, and be intrigued. Because now I have to teach it.

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Kumashiro, Kevin (2004). Against Common Sense: Teaching and learning toward social justice. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Wood, Hugh B. (1965). The Development of Education in Nepal. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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