I always wondered who I would be if I could have taken the classes I wanted to in highschool. Classes like Guitar, Creative Writing, Drama, Song Composition, and Etymology. Imagine if every student chose their own itinerary of personalized classes (how about the Creative Fiction with a Starships focus)? Well, aside from the collapse of federal funds for our school system, we would probably be living without light bulbs in a commune somewhere, writing ballads and crafting Kombucha.
Kumashiro, himself a teacher, presents two cases of his students, M and N, that needed a non-traditional school experience. An experience more fitted to their needs. M struggles with staying on task during structured classtime (but excels in inspiration and productivity when given less structure) (Kumashiro 20). N “resisted” classroom expectations and did not easily conform to rote instruction (but was extremely self-motivated in independent reading and creative outlet) (Kumashiro 21).
After reading about these two students, the following passage struck me as important, although I have yet to solve its depth.
“By sharing these stories of M and N, I am not suggesting that a better approach to teaching would have been to let them behave or analyze literature or produce writing in whichever ways they pleased. Mainstream society often places value on certain kinds of behaviors, knowledge, and skills, and schools would disadvantage students by not teaching what often matters in schools and society” (Kumashiro 22).
So, for Kumashiro, the difference between informing a student and oppressing them is one that the institution must make. Not every school should or can teach a class on how to write Starship fiction. Sorry George Lucas. Time must be taken to ensure that a student graduates with the correct mental tool set. With this tool set, these future citizens are aware “that views and practices [have] different implications in different situations, and that determining an anti-oppressive course of action [requires] assessing these differences” (Kumashiro 29).
Once educational institutions embolden their students to access these “views and practices” (critical analysis would fall under this, but critical analysis is more of a key to access the tool set which contains the views and practices that can be used to engage this world’s situations), then the educational institution performs a fulfilling task (Kumashiro 29). Examples of these views and practices, just to name a few: an aware use of social media (twitter, facebook), an approach to alcohol and substance use that questions “why?”, and an open ear to the stories of the marginalized (LGBTQ, women, First Nations, African Americans).
In the hard years of high school where students are sometimes forced to care about stuff they do not want to, this can be tough. If my teacher had a vote to decide what to fill class time with, to this day I would pick the ‘daydream and doodle while teacher lectures and ignores you’ option. Now, of course I believe that the student who accesses and engages deeply with the world’s “views and practices” is an ideal student (far from me, the hyperspace doodler) (Kumashiro 29). Yet, when was the last time that a 16-year-old came up to you and said “I want to learn more about post-colonial feminist theory”? (Actually, when was the last time an adult came up to you and said that? Kids aren’t too far off from the norm!) We have to be sensitive that we don’t oppress students themselves. How ironic would that be? I can just see the headline now:
SCHOOL DETAINS AND FORCES STUDENTS TO STUDY AND PARTAKE IN ANTI-OPPRESSION SEMINAR
In closing, I’ll leave you with a snapshot where Kumashiro describes an attendee of the school he wishes us to create.
“The student was learning something that brought discomfort and a desire to do more work” (Kumashiro 29).
Kumashiro, K. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, New York: Routledge Falmer. pp. 19-33.
Featured Image: War on Kinkade 9 by Jeff Bennett