Balance in Teaching

Although I wrote this a while back, I encountered it today.

Dumbing Down Teachers, Henry A. Giroux, Truthout, May 26 2010.

A self reflective discipline in a vacuum of experience is useless. I didn't learn how to teach until years after I went through my "teacher training". I needed to step into reality. Without the days in the real classroom all my critical pedagogy was smoke in the wind. I also have seen the use of practical experience in learning with the students Giroux seems to champion. Those at risk students when involved in service learning which has a solid academic basis come up with some of the more profound insights into subject matter than I have seen in a "regular" classroom. I suggest that students should practice not just the critical thinking Giroux yearns for but the other two "c"'s - communication and collaboration. (21st Century Skills)If modern education lacks anything, it is this step into application of learning. That takes freedom of expression in class and a respect for opinion that models our ideals of democracy.

As to his defense of teacher unions and measures of teacher performance, I suggest that instructional methods need to be assessed in a responsible data driven, self-reflective manner. I have belonged to both major teacher unions in my time and the only advantage I had was the provision of legal representation. That and contract negotiation seem to be their most intent function. For those reasons I supported them. However, the practice of evaluation of teachers is inadequate and at times, criminal in benign neglect.

Practical application does not have to be joined with the repressive production of worker bees without the ability to consider the world.If my teaching were not grounded in my deep thought about the implications of my subject matter as well as my methods, I could not effectively function. Cookbook teaching is not teaching, in my opinion.

Giroux is right to note that "schools are dominated by a politics of fear, containment and authoritarianism" particularly for schools of color and poverty. This is a reflection of our society that does need to be addressed. Knowledge is power. Without that knowledge these students cannot escape the cycles of poverty and hopelessness that follow them to class. Ruby Payne's controversial theories of poverty and social culture forced me to look at the assumptions I had about a "proper" classroom.

It is certainly easier to focus on data, standards and testing than to grow an articulate, informed, literate, critical thinking citizen. The schools run like businesses do have something to offer. I would have liked to go to "work" at a creative place like Apple. There the experience informs the debate and opinion is based in experience as well as theory. That's what our kids need in school.

Teaching is a verb, a very active verb. Our kids deserve the best, all of them.