Sunday, December 1, 2013

Talking Points #10: Connections for Ira Shor's “Education is Politics"

A) Shor, Ira. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print.

"To educate is to adapt the child to adult social environment" (Shor 12). 

    In Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change, Ira Shor argues that in order for a sense of democracy to be established in schools, school curriculums must allow for students to become active participants in the classroom. Shor points out that at times, curriculum can serve as an issue concerning individual students' learning. Jean Piaget refers to it as a "deficiency" (Shor 12), but only when students are not actively engaged in critical thinking processes. This particular design of curriculum fails to provide students with material that will truly aid them in considering diverse perspectives, in addition to gaining deeper insight. It demonstrates "no need for change" (Shor 12), even when the need is evident. Shor states that students will benefit more so from a curriculum that is centered on inquiry, for it allows them to personally reflect upon issues of importance.

As I was reading Shor's piece, I took note that ideas from the text could also serve as an accumulation of all of the readings/themes that we have done this semester. I was able to connect "Education is Politics" to a number of the theories:
  • Johnson: Shor argues that "administrations and institutions" (Shor 15) possess the power to determine the curriculum in schools. Issues of privilege, power, and difference are prevalent in some schools according to Shor's text: "...existing canons of knowledge and usage are not a common culture; they have ignored the multicultural themes, idioms, and achievements of nonelite groups, such as women, minorities, homosexuals, and working people" (Shor 32).
  • Delpit: "The teacher is the person who mediates the relationship between outside authorities, formal knowledge, and individual students in the classroom" (Shor 13). The Silenced Dialogue states that there are rules and codes of power in the classroom, where "teachers make numerous decisions" (Shor 14).
  • Kozol: Amazing Grace offers readers awareness into the role of the system and its effects on citizens. "[The] knowledge that now gets into schools is already a choice from a much larger universe of possible social knowledge and principles.... Social and economic values, hence, are already embedded in the design of the institutions we work in..." (Shor 13). The power accessed by "institutions" (Shor 15) is a part of this "system" (Shor 18). The system can benefit students, but it can also produce undesired effects when the curriculum meets the status quo.
  • Rodriguez: The author shares his personal struggle with the language barrier in his essay, "Aria." Through Rodriguez's silence, the depth of his learning was restricted. In "Education is Politics," Shor shares an example from Elsasser and Irvine (1987) regarding sacrificing private identity in school for society's public identity.
  • Collier: Collier argues for a "balanced and multicultural" (Shor 14) curriculum in "Teaching Multilingual Children." To revert back to the 1987 example from Elsasser and Irvine, the writing teachers "taught the community idiom, Creole, and Standard English simultaneously" (Shor 48), in an effort to make a more inclusive learning environment.
  • August: Safe Spaces discusses the benefits of having an inclusive curriculum in schools. In Empowering Education, Shor also argues for an "inclusive" (Shor 32) curriculum, as opposed to a curriculum "viewed as exclusion" (Shor 32).
  • Kohl: Shor argues that a curriculum that fails to engage students can promote a "lack of passion for learning" (Shor 26) in the classroom. In "I Won't Learn From You!," Kohl provides numerous instances in which students have "sometimes [resisted] the intentions of the school and the teacher" (Shor 13). Shor states that "the authoritarian traditional curriculum itself generates bad feelings which lead many students to resist or sabotage lessons" (Shor 24). 
  • Kohn: In "Five Reasons to Stop Saying 'Good Job!'", Kohn implies that praise in the classroom can sometimes serve as "indicators of comparative achievement and worth" (Shor 23), as Shor also details in "Education is Politics."
  • Christensen: Like Shor, Linda Christensen emphasizes that students need to be active participants in the classroom, while also acquiring knowledge about society. Christensen says that individuals are not aware of the "secret education" created by society until made aware, but, according to Shor, this education cannot be evaluated until curriculum in schools involve an "automatic reproduction of society through the classroom" (Shor 13). Christensen also implies that this secret education "teaches students what kind of people to be and what kind of society to build" (Shor 15). Shor believes that school curriculum should enable students to "reflect on reality" (Shor 22), and, like Christensen, "take action" (Shor 22). In "Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us," students in Christensen's classroom took a participatory role. Society did not enforce them on how to "act, live, and dream" (Christensen 126), but rather, students took a deeper glimpse into the influence of society. Shor even uses Christensen's work on page 53 of the text as an example to demonstrate this theory.
  • Kahne & Westheimer: Kahne and Westheimer discuss political goals of service learning, as well as community involvement in regards to citizenship, in "In the Service of What?" Shor believes that schools should "promote democracy" (Shor 11) through curriculum. These authors encourage the need for "transformative" (Shor 16) learning experiences. Like Shor, Kahne and Westheimer also state that means for "[reflection] on reality" (Shor 22) is essential in schools, and that a "democratic transformation of society" (Shor 29) will only occur through students' "active citizenship" (Shor 29).
  • Brown v. Board of Education: The case of Brown v. Board of Education reflected the fight for racial equality in schools. At the beginning of "Education is Politics," Shor poses the question of how education can both "promote democracy and serve students equitably" (Shor 11), while later providing solutions.
I found that Shor's piece was able to connect to all of the course themes/theories.
Question: Have you seen evidence of the curriculum that Shor promotes in your Service Learning classrooms?

Additional References:
Christensen, Linda. "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us: Critiquing Cartoons and Society." Rethinking Schools 01 Feb. 2007: 126-137. Print.