I really enjoy reading Doug Noon’s posts on Borderland. Doug epitomizes the reflective educational practitioner who is blogging about his journey. This evening I wandered over to his about page, and read the following paragraph for the first time:

Educating people for a democratic society is cultural work. Teachers must become border crossers. We need to be creatively flexible because even if curriculum is standardized, our students are not. Teaching is more than methodology. It begins with understanding, and it depends on personal connections that honor the identities of learners. Conceptual borders are places to make new meanings – to explore different ways of thinking and being, to muck about with difficult questions and to be unafraid of wrong answers.

One of the most important roles of the edublogosphere, in my opinion, is the opportunity it provides for professional mentorship and growth. Unless you happen to be an exceptionally fortunate teacher and have someone like Doug next door to your classroom, you might not have opportunities sans blogosphere to tap insights like his. Like Doug and many other edubloggers, I think and write a lot about multiple literacies. Living as I do now both in the F2F world and the virtual world of the blogosphere, I am struck by how my own educational journey as a learner and a teacher is advancing as strongly today as it ever has. And I’m not even paying money anymore for graduate credit hours! 🙂

Doug’s writings on the cultural work of teachers reminds me of a favorite quotation from another educational mentor of mine, Brazilian Paulo Freire. In “Teachers As Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach” Freire wrote:

For this reason also, as I have said so many times, teaching cannot be a process of transference of knowledge from the one teaching to the learner. This is the mechanical transference from which results machinelike memorization, which I have already criticized. Critical study correlates with teaching that is equally critical, which necessarily demands a critical way of comprehending and of realizing the reading of the word and that of the world, the reading of text and of content. (p. 22)

You know, teaching this way is A LOT HARDER than simply getting out the curriculum guide and passing out worksheets. We face an instructional dilemma in education today, perhaps as we always have, that not all teachers are prepared and ready to teach in the same way. I think curriculum guides are important and even invaluable at times, especially when one is starting their own educational journey as a classroom teacher. But I think at some point, the best teachers begin to depart from the curriculum guide and venture forth into the realm of creative, critical teaching. ACOT research talks about this as the “invention” stage of teaching. This is the level I think we want all teachers to eventually reach. At this level, classrooms, activities, and assignments don’t look the same from classroom to classroom. They are actually very diverse. The reason for this is that the instructional environment and the challenges present there for all learners are the result of a creative, inventive process. And that sort of thing cannot be obtained directly by reading a curriculum guide.

Part of the educational sea change we need involves this idea of recognizing that just as every student needs a differentiated curriculum and pathway to securing their own knowledge and perceptions of the world, so also do teachers need the freedom and autonomy to innovate in their classrooms and craft new learning environments filled with rigor and challenge– but likely also quite unique and different from the classrooms of their peers. This is the classroom our children need– and and the school that I love. That is the environment in which I want to teach as an educational artist– rather than a factory line where the main requirement is for actors and actresses that can read a script on cue.

We need to fan the flame of curiosity within the minds of the young and old learners in our charge, rather than stamp it out with the standardization of a mandated curriculum guide. In “Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage” Freire wrote:

What is essential is that learners, though subjected to the praxis of the “banking system,” maintain alive the flame of resistance that sharpens their curiosity and stimulates their capacity for risk, for adventure, so as to immunize themselves against the banking system. In this sense, the creative force of the learning process, which encompasses comparison, repetition, observation, indomitable doubt, and curiosity not easily satisfied, overcomes the negative effects of false teaching. This capacity to go beyond the factors of conditioning is one of the obvious advantages of the human person. Of course, this capacity does not mean that it is a matter of indifference to us whether we become a “banking system” educator or one whose role is essentially to “problematize,” to use the critical faculty. (p. 32-33)

There is no doubt in my mind that the pedagogical worldview Freire was writing about here, and which I support, is worlds apart from the ridiculously simplistic and bludgeoningly numbing paradigm of NCLB. Let’s hope that when we elect a new President in the United States, we can help him or her redefine our national education standards to not only permit but ENCOURAGE instructional autonomy and freedom of the sort I am advocating here.

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One Response to Engaging in the educational work that matters

  1. Doug Noon says:

    To be mentioned on the same page as Freire is a bit too flattering for me to ignore. Thank you for the kind words. And congratulations on your new venture – away from grad school and academia. I know they call it the “real world” but I don’t know why, since I’ve never been there. I’ll be curious to learn more about it from you. I’ll follow those links to Freire.

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