Be a “good” student! – What are we really saying?

The problem of common sense (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. 19-33.

As previously discussed, “commonsense” is something that we cannot get away from in any classroom. It is the acceptance of what are the norms, without regard to the oppressive nature of these assumptions – that everyone should fit neatly into one mold because “that’s just how it is”. If we approach the idea of who the “good” students are, we can easily see this commonsense clouding the vision of the educational system. Kumashiro notes that being a good student in the eyes of society encompasses: being able to learn in one specific way, having none – or few – behavioural outbursts in class, and proving that the student has learned sufficiently by being able to regurgitate the desired information on command. Unfortunately, this pays no attention to all of the variables that play a part in developing the early understanding of kids. People learn differently. That is a fact. Also, some people have a natural predisposition to certain skills and abilities – this is also known as the theory of Multiple Intelligences. For example, I am an Arts Education student. My areas of “comfort” are dance and music, and maybe even literature. Ask me to create draw or express those same thoughts in visual art – not a chance it will turn out the way I am hoping, or at least a VERY minimal chance. Putting this into Kumashiro’s world of education, I would be a terrible student in an Art class because, frankly, that is just not my best subject. This idea privileges those who are simply more academically inclined and marginalizes – and discourages – those who learn differently. Kumashiro wrote of a story of a young child who struggled to stay focused in lessons and did not follow directions “normally”. At the end of this story it was stated that at the end of every day the child would ask “was I bad today? […] I’ll be better tomorrow.” How heart-breaking is that? This young child already had in their head that they were a “bad” student. When a child only sees the label placed on them by society, they often do not strive for anything greater. Their goals and dreams are placed in the far recesses of their minds while they accept the fate that has been handed to them – that they are not a good student and cannot learn in the conventional way, therefore they are not “smart” enough.

Instead, why can we not break this “commonsense” that tries to fit every student into a neat little box of what they should strive for? Instead, why not celebrate the individuality of each student and allow each student an opportunity to learn differently? I am not saying “don’t teach curriculum, kids can learn whatever they want.” But perhaps there is more to learning than regurgitating information to get the highest grade. Instead, why not encourage passions to grow and develop – allowing students to explore what makes them an individual?

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