It’s on the Horizon

Well, I really thought I’d have had time to blog during BCTR.  I was wrong.  So, so wrong.  When they basically advertised it as an entire teaching degree shoved into a 1.5 month intensive training program, they weren’t lying.  Tough.  Challenging.  Nerve racking.  And totally rewarding.

Now, teachers and staff start reporting to district related stuff here real soon.  New Teacher Institute is next week.  I head to Douglass next week too.  Professional Development is in full swing and on the 26th, we get down to it.  The kids come to school.

I am nervous as hell, but excited.

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Freire, Critical Pedagogy, and Teaching to “De-” and/or “Re-” (Part One)

Paulo Freire

I think I always assumed that I would be teaching to “de-.” Destabilize, demythologize, decenter, depose, deconstruct, etc. It’s sort of always been “my thing.” How can I call into question my students’ assumptions? How might I make them aware of the injustice of the prevailing order, the class war raging, the racism inherent in so many of our institutions, and – God forbid! – their (and my) possible complicity in the perpetuation of that order? This is all important work, to be sure. It’s classic “First World” critical pedagogy, awkwardly transplanted from South American awesomeguy Paulo Freire, to American academic situations. We had some fun debates in grad school about the merits and successes of translating Freirean pedagogy in a suburban school. The general consensus seemed to be that there does exist a tension in a translated pedagogy that treats upper-middle class white kids to see themselves as somehow subjected to an unjust system. In some ways, we acknowledged, they are. But not in the same way that Freire’s students were. Attempting to make a direct comparison between two drastically different political and social contexts does violence to both. In short, my study and practice of critical pedagogy has so far only been in a college setting. I’ve thus far had to read him through a particular lens — the lens that allowed me to translate from Freire’s historical-political particularity into something I could teach middle to upper-middle class students. It was my job to subtly prod my students to give up some of their privilege in the name of a just social order, to understand their position and work for a better, more just and radical democracy. Some of my favorite things to talk about in this regard? The “canon.” Patriarchal values as normative. The white European voice as default. Social construction. You get the idea. It’s fun stuff, and enlightening. It also serves a very real purpose. I believe that one of the great projects of critical pedagogy is the site at which it engages the privileged. Affluent private schools are the best places for this work. Students at Bryn Mawr, Roland Park Country, and Gilman (to name three in Baltimore City) ought to have teachers teaching through a critical lens. Why? Because, justly or not, (for now) these students stand in a position, by virtue of their privilege, to effect change one day. (That is not to say that other students don’t have that opportunity, too, but let’s be honest here — some of these private school kids already have jobs lined up at a law firm.) Their minds must be shaped in such a way as to ensure that they effect the right kind of change. They must be prepared to accept a more just distribution of wealth via tax policy, divest themselves of some degree of their privilege, and actively use their power to work for justice and equality. That preparation happens as part of a critical education. At one point, I thought I’d be doing that work. Instead, in my new setting, at a wonderful public high school that happens to be in a poor part of West Baltimore (we apparently have homeless students attending Douglass) and with an approx. 98% African American student body — with all the policy, funding, and social implications that come with that reality — I’m finding myself having to teach to “re-.” Restabilize, reenchant, recenter, re-impose, and reconstruct. It’s a bit of a scary proposition, and something I think (fear? hope?) will be a continuing investigation here at The WreckingLot. Tearing down in order to reveal has always come easy to me. Hell, the oldest email address I have (going back to my teenage years) is teardownwallsnow@*********.com. As I said before, it’s my thing. But how to pivot to building walls in order to lift up? That’s a daunting task. Alas, since it’s been so long since I’ve done heavy lifting, writing-wise, I think I’ll have to put off that piece until a bit later. Look for part 2.