Thursday, May 29, 2008

the oppressed

So I just finished reading "Pedagogy of the Oppressed".  It took me until I was about halfway through the article before I could make any sense out of what Freire was trying to say.  But once I started to understand, I started wondering how this can all be applied to teaching in the United States, in Rochester New York.  Here's what I came up with.
Only when teachers themselves identify themselves as oppressed, can they truly connect with students, who are also oppressed in some way, whether it be race, socioeconomic class, gender, etc., in order to establish a "community of learners."  Once we stop seeing "disadvantaged" kids as being disadvantaged, or "unfortunates" as Freire says (p. 54) can we reach them and teach them.  This has been a HUGE realization for me in the past few weeks/months.  I always knew that I wanted to teach in the city, but it was always for the wrong reasons.  I would tell people that I wanted to help those kids.  Now I realize that my view of those kids as being "unfortunates" has hindered my ability to teach them.  
I think that only once teachers can get past the idea that they are the "expert" in the class (oppression!!!), can they really teach their students.  This ties into establishing a community of learners as well, as in such a learning environment, everyone is equal and contributes something.  The teacher is there for support rather than to transmit knowledge.  This type of community cannot exist in an oppressive environment where the teacher views his/her students as unfortunates.  Rather, the teacher must see the value and importance of what each individual student brings to school, every day.


Lisabeth said...

Great thoughts Shannon. I appreciate that you are taking the 'tough theory' stuff and applying it to your situations.

I agree that it is very important to not work from a deficit model when viewing students in our classrooms, it places them, and us, at a disadvantage from the start.

In what ways can we adjust the curriculum to position ourselves as community learners and not experts?

Thanks for your thoughts!!!

Pierce said...

Shannon,I agree with the things that you alluded to in your post. I think that it is very important not to enter the classroom with a deficit view of the students that we are teaching. I also think that it is important to remember that a deficit view of students can exist in other types of schools besides urban schools. A teacher can also have a deficit view of students in a rural or a suburban setting. As you said this does place the students and the teachers at a disadvantage.

Grace Butler said...

Yes, you have put it quite well. You cannot free the oppressed by 'helping' them. Putting yourself in that position is to assert superiority over them, which reinforces the original oppressive hierarchy.

I also understand why we mustn't approach teaching using a deficit model. All students have strengths, skills, and literacies. If we focus on those that they have not mastered, then we are inherently devaluing those others that they have. My greatest (personal) difficulty with what you have written is learning to think of myself as NOT the expert. I'm teaching French, so shouldn't I be the expert, or at least more advanced than those I'm teaching?

Yet this is perhaps where the idea of multiple literacies comes in. Sure, I may know more French than my students, but there's so much more than that to a class. FIrst, there's the WAY in which one learns a language. There are so many different ways of viewing it and making sense of it. I certainly don't have a monopoly on these, and what worked for me may very well not work for my students. Their experiences and mind-sets are just as valuable and legitimate as my own. What's more, language is not the only thing taught in a French class. Culture and history also play an important part, for example. Again, I need to understand that my students have their own histories and cultures that may in unique ways relate to those of the francophone world. To assume that I am the expert is to negate the validity of the knowledge they bring to the class. It may also undermine their ability to understand and connect with the material being learned.

Thanks for your post. It's got me thinking, and musing out loud (so to speak) has helped.