Critical Thinking

These posts were copied from my home page and placed under this course, as such they can be found in reverse order of date, starting with the most recent at the top. Sorry for any commenting inconveniences as they are all in one post instead of several. Feel free to scroll down on my home page and comment there if you feel more comfortable doing so. Thank you.

What does it mean to be a “good” student according to the common sense? Which students are privileged by this definition of the good student? Which are oppressed and left out?

Teachers often say they want their students to be “good” students, but what exactly does that mean? Well, for some it means students who are actively engaged, puts effort into the assignments and ask appropriate questions at appropriate times. To others it can be the behaviour a child demonstrates through raising hands, taking turns speaking, sitting quietly, completing homework, coming to class with their materials and being prepared. If you ask any young child you can be guaranteed that he or she will name at least one of these points. So, if many people (parents and children alike) can describe a “good” student it must be common sense. Here we must ask ourselves the question again of who understands common sense. To those who do not share the common view, a “good” student could simply be one that shows up for class. But these views certainly advantage some while disadvantaging others. For those that “get” the common sense, being a “good” student may appear to come naturally as they have already discovered what it means. Others may not understand or meet expectations that are unwritten because they do not share the same values. The dominate culture in society will be the privileged group, while the group that is the minority will most likely be the oppressed group that is disadvantaged. In order to help the disadvantaged students, teachers must be clear with their expectations and discuss why those actions are valued. Perhaps being a well-behaved student is valued because the time will be spent learning the lesson and not correcting behaviour, but at any rate it must be evident to the student what is expected of them because common sense or common knowledge isn’t so common after all.

Kumashiro describes three kinds of programs that produce teachers. Which image best describes your own experience of learning to be a teacher in this program?

In chapter 1, Kumashiro describes three kinds of programs that produce teachers: teacher as learned practitioner, teacher as researcher and teacher as professional. The option I feel best describes my program is teacher as learned practitioner, although clearly other elements are integrated as well. Our program uses materials that aim to teach students in ways that do not repeat commonsensical approaches to teaching. We spend a lot of time discussing other viewpoints and the ways that those social groups think differently. Also, in our program we learn about how student develop and learn through several dominant theories. These theories are learned in the mandated, not elective, classes that begin the program and are repeated or reviewed throughout other classes in addition. Some of these theories of learning are linked to educational psychology theories. We also spend a great deal of time learning about our chosen areas through different classes. This helps us to learn what we will be teaching and how to demonstrate this knowledge. Although we realize that we may be placed in a job that is not under our chosen areas, we spend this time on these areas to help us gain better insight and become prepared to teach our students in our ideal areas. Another reason I think this program is suited to teacher as learned practitioner is that we learn about “how to teach”, classroom management and instruction in our disciplines. In short, this program teaches pre-service teachers how to know their students, their subjects and how to teach.

Assignment #2 Part 1


1. ‘Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-as-usual’ by Gregory Michie p. 43

~This article is based on an extended metaphor comparing new teaching and its difficulties to being caught in the undertow of the ocean. The article discusses what a classroom should consist of, including relating the learning to students’ lives. The author also believes that teachers should teach using their values and beliefs, but to remember not to feel as if they are alone because there are other teachers around you that have similar goals. For this reason it is important to seek out allies, whether they are other teachers or community members. Allies also help new teachers to discourage negativity. One important idea that the writer mentions is that teaching for social justice includes the environment you create as a teacher. Teachers must remember that while schools can be oppressive, it is important not to let them run wild with freedom, or your energy will be focused on classroom management instead of learning. It is important to use the methods and strategies you learn in meaningful ways that broaden knowledge and ideas, instead of restricting it. Michie’s article ends with a piece of advice, “choose your battles early on, pace yourself, swim with the current when you have to, and never lose sight of that spot on the shore” (p. 51).

2. ‘The Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club’ by Rita Tenorio p. 83

~This article recounts the many stories and strategies about racism and anti-racism teaching that occurred in a 1st-grade class. The teacher spends a great deal of time teaching the students about their skin colour and what it means to each individual. She gives a detailed explanation about six different activities that discuss race and skin colour. The activities introduce ideas about what it means to have different skin tones, other than the “lighter is better” notion they have already learned in their lifetime. It also helps students to accept themselves, and see themselves in a different manner. In addition, it is a way to show the class that the students are not so different after all. These activities, while being age appropriate, manage to discuss what racism is and offer other ways of approaching racism. The article concludes by reinforcing that while we have multicultural schools, we need to help our students to become tolerant and accepting of ethnical differences because they can ultimately change society.

3. ‘What can I do when a student makes a racist or sexist remark?’ by Rita Tenorio p.93

~This clip is a response to the above question by the same first grade teacher in the previous article. She reveals that while racist and sexist remarks do occur in young children, the adult’s instinctual response is to ask them to stop talking, say that it is inappropriate and move on. Tenorio reminds us that curriculum is not simply what we teach, but also what happens in school; our reaction or non-reaction is part of what students learn. She insists that even at a young age we need to teach our students skills to respond to racism and sexism in terms they can understand.

4. ‘Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers can be Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations’ by Sudie Hofmann p.95

~This article examines the diverse nature of families, and explores alternative projects that teachers could use to avoid assuming every student has “normal” families. It discusses that some students who have missing parents or other parental figures in their lives that do not fit the regular idea of a family may feel upset or frustrated by projects that single them out. Hofmann points out that while teachers experience training for many other types of diversity, family diversity is an area where many teachers lack guidance, and as such, she suggests that parents help teachers understand when activities are not inclusive.

5. ‘Heather’s Moms got Married’ by Mary Cowhey p. 103

~Cowhey’s article discourses the many types of families, including LGBT. Her story takes place in Massachusetts, a lesbian friendly community, and recounts the stories of how her 2nd-graders respond to learning about the variety of family options in this area. While at first there may be some hesitation, after a discussion about why these families exist – because they love each other – the students come to accept the differences and encourage each other to be open-minded.

6. ‘Out Front’ by Annie Johnston p. 111

~This article discusses the many challenges a out gay teacher faces, from being on the GSA or LGB and questioning youth support groups, to trying to incorporate gay issues in their curriculum and avoiding anti-gay slur in their classrooms. Johnston believes it is extremely important for gay teachers to be out with their students and be a gay role model for students. In addition, it is important for straight teachers to become allies and also use those ideas in their classrooms to show a united front. Once you establish an anti-gay slur campaign, there should be consequences for students that break this rule, or it will not be taken seriously. An idea that she also touches is that homophobic ridicule is a main reason that gender roles are reinforced.

7. ‘Curriculum is Everything that Happens’ by Leon Lynn, interview with Rita Tenorio p. 163

This interview is based on giving advice to new teachers about how to become involved in social justice issues. Her suggestion is to learn from teachers who are politically conscious and to find allies everywhere, from your school to your district to your community. It is vital to make sure students feel that they can contribute in class discussions about family and culture and that they will be accepted.

8. ‘Working Effectively with English Language Learners’ by Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas p.183

~The main topic in this article is about how to help new teachers understand what English Language Learners are going through, and become more committed to providing support and assistance for these learners. The article mentions that you should be respectful and get to know the languages and cultures of the students you teach, encouraging students to be proficient in both their native language and English, and perhaps learn a few phrases in each language. The most important idea is to teach in ways that your students can understand. This includes avoiding long class lectures and incorporating more visual aids, active learning activities and spending more time with these students to provide additional explanations.

9. ‘Teaching Controversial Content’ by Kelley Dawson Salas p. 199

~This article focuses on one teacher’s hesitation to teach the social justice units she had planned in her classroom. Her fears ranged from being fired, being challenged by parents, and being isolated, even though she believed that social justice helps kids learn other perspectives and critical thinking skills. In the end she taught the unit and nothing bad happened. Since then she has found more resources and adds to her units each year. Salas’s opinion about informing parents about teaching controversial ideas is that if you do not tell them everything then be consistent, and if questions arise, answer them at that time.

10. ‘Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year’ by Dale Weiss p. 317

~This reflection is the story of a first year 1st-grade teacher’s encounters with the Christmas holiday season in his school. The teacher’s approach to the winter holidays had been to show his students the diversity of holidays, including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas in Mexico and Winter Solstice. Having been asked for his class to contribute to the school’s Christmas tree, his response was that they would submit the books they were creating about each different holiday. However, he approached his principal and asked if these other holidays could be added to the public spaces. He agreed, but other teachers did not and took offense. Their response was to take down their decorations. Although the teacher tried to explain that it was a miscommunication and he did not want the decorations taken down, simply that he wanted awareness and exposure of other cultures, the staff reacted negatively and it ended in leaving this new teacher feeling isolated in his beliefs.

Due to personal comments Part 2 of this assignment was submitted directly to my seminar leader.

From the readings and conversations in class how do you see yourself teaching treaties, and for what reasons?

The article “Teaching Treaties as (Un)Usual Narratives: Disrupting the Curricular Commonsense” by Jennifer Tupper and Michael Cappello discusses the teaching of treaties in Canada. I want to teach about treaties not because it is mandated, but because it is a subject that few people understand, yet jump to nasty conclusions about and remain ignorant. I did not receive very much teaching about treaties, and nothing comes to my mind when I try to remember a treaty class. I want my students to understand the special circumstances in our province that brought us to treaty agreements so that they understand each other and the development of our country. We are all treaty people because we are Canadians and we made an everlasting agreement; however, few white people realize that they are treaty people.

Dominant colonial foundational stories of white society are landmarked, but those foundational stories involving First Nations people are not. Another reason I want to teach about treaties is because I feel that students (and many adults too) view separate courses, such as Indigenous Studies or Native Studies, as less important, especially when students must “choose” which is better for university. I say “choose” because often those courses are backed with a subject that is mandatory to graduate or for university. The typical view is that these separate courses should teach treaties, and not other classes.

White cultures are dominate while others are labeled with “cultural difference” — this is our excuse for any failures and the solution is to blame the student for not “getting” what we mean. This attitude almost tells people “don’t bother with non-white people”. The “colonized” group (here Aboriginals) is portrayed by the “colonizer” (the white superiors). This allows us to change history by omission and create a one-sided version of events, and blame language barriers as excuses for not following through with treaty agreements, like how the idea of sharing the land became giving up the land. The truth is we tried “Canadianizing” First Nations people to fit the Euro-Canadian vision; in short, we tried to assimilate them. I do not believe that is what the treaties had planned. Teaching treaties approaches racism and racialized identities and with the growing population of Aboriginal peoples it is now more important than ever to end racism. Ideas and ambitions of First Nation signatories should be illuminated for historical accuracy. I want to use the treaties as proof for correcting history, and treaties are not historical artefacts – they are ongoing.

I want to teach treaties in a way that allows understanding of the mistreatment of treaties. White dominance and privilege was paid for by First Nations and Aboriginal subordination. I especially liked the quotation: “the telling of other stories, particularly from the perspective of non-whites, is necessary if we are to interrupt the commonsense understandings” (p. 12). In order to remain respectful when teaching treaty education we must remember we are teaching about the treaty, not the culture.

As you complete this week’s readings, make note of the various ways that the idea of race is used in the text. What does race mean in this textbook? What does it meant that teachers are being taught to think in racial terms? What are the effects of teaching teachers to think in this way?

In “A History of Education” by Painter, the term race is used several times. This text first uses the term “race” to generally refer to human kind (p. 5), and again in the same meaning on p. 8. Already there are hierarchies in race – the Orientals are listed as the birthplace of the human race and the most progressed area, while other “uncivilized peoples” (which are not even named) are not included in the book of education because “their education is thus too primitive in its character to bring it within the scope of our present undertaking.” This statement disregards these other cultures as even having educational systems of their own as it is not equal with the European, or civilized area’s, education.

The second usage is in the Chinese section (P.9), and refers to a specific group of people (ex. the Mongolian people). They are characterized as smart, educated and inventive, but also as possessing negative traits like being unwilling to change and tyrannical.

In “Origin of the Idea of Race” by Audrey Smedley, race is used in two ways. “Race” is first used as a definition similar to “type” or “kind,” clearly as a way to classify humans. She uses race to group individuals like breeds of people (ex. English – or more broadly European – Irish, Indian, and Africans). The English and Europeans are always seen as superior in this reading. The other usage of “race” is to talk about all peoples in the human race.

Undoubtedly the term “race” is used to classify certain groups of people that share similar physical traits. Teachers were being taught to teach in racial terms based on each group’s ability to preform. In these articles the Chinese and different Indian people are given broad characteristics that create stereotypes, such as how the Chinese are very respective towards parents and authoritative adults, and Indian people do not like physical activities. It upholds the belief that Chinese students will be the most likely to succeed and be diligent in their studies, while East Indian students will merely repeat the lessons. The effect of teaching teachers to think in racial terms is essentially that they will categorize their students by what they assume will be the smartest and most motivated students. Eventually, the teacher will not realize he or she asks the students questions with varying levels of difficulty based on assumptions, instead of what the student has demonstrated as their ability. Until the teacher realizes that thinking in racial terms or stereotypes is dangerous and causes a ripple effect in this way of thinking, he or she will neglect to foster the potential in all of the students equally.

Where do you see common sense at work in the definitions? Especially in the first link, list some of the ways that common sense might be connected to how we can define curriculum.

Anti-oppressive education creates discussions that education can create or contribute to the oppression of a person in a social group based on race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc.. Many of our “common sense” ideas or rituals harm these people, and we do not even realize it. We need to make a commitment to teaching for social justice to relieve this oppression and allow our students to feel safe and comfortable. If our students feel safe and undiscriminated against in school then we, as teachers, can begin our job of teaching; however, when our students feel judged and unsafe they cannot possibly learn until we take the steps to help them. When we teach for social justice we send a message to our students about our values, purposefully or not. By doing this, and becoming aware about issues in or for different social groups, we can connect to our students. “Common sense” appears in the definitions of written curriculum, societal curriculum, hidden curriculum, null curriculum, and the phantom curriculum. “Common sense” is connected to our definition of curriculum by being the forces that “educate” us, the structure and nature of schools, the stuff we do not teach or actually ignore, and the messages that are prevalent in media. When we believe an idea is common sense we do not explain it in depth to our students, but we fail to keep in mind that every culture has a different version of common sense and none of which are identical. These common sense ideas leave students in the dark unsure of what is expected of them and wondering about their place in society.

Why is it so important to pay attention to the “commonsense”? Ideas, thoughts, and quotations from the reading.

Common sense is a dangerous thing. Simply living everyday life and participating in society’s “common sense” is dangerous. This kind of living does not force ourselves to challenge what common sense means to us as individuals, certain social groups, or the society as a whole. Everyone has a different idea about what common sense is based on their experiences in life, culture and education. Without thinking many of us participate in the commonsensical ideas that we have come to accept from our society. They consist of mainly unwritten ideas or tips that appear to be logical and make perfect sense when one is introduced to them, such as “looking both ways before crossing the street”, “you have to learn to walk before you can run” and “keeping eye contact during conversation is polite and shows you are interested in what the other person has to say.” We begin to repeat these ideas over and over to ourselves and others. Eventually we stop challenging them because it appears to be something that everyone knows, and everyone can’t be wrong, right? Kumashiro challenges us to think critically and fight the urge to think the same way as everyone else. Instead we are encouraged to “teach in ways that disrupt, challenge, work against, and critique the status quo,” (XVII). Below are some of the quotations and ideas that stood out to me and frame my thinking towards Kumashiro’s Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice.

– Pg. XIX, “the fact that the classroom is fraught with challenges and constraints is not an excuse for failing to grapple with social justice issues and anti-oppressive pedagogies.” I like this quotation because of the “there-are-no-excuses” attitude that should go hand in hand with fighting for social justice.

-Pg. XIX building an alliance and network of trust in the community as a first step as a new teacher. Intrapersonal skills help to build these relationships.

-Pg. XX, “one of our major responsibilities is to learn – to learn from and with students about their lives, their worlds, and the wider world beyond the classroom and school.” This statement resonates with me because I believe teachers should be life-long learners, and I do agree that it is a responsibility, not just a helpful tool, to get to know our students. How can we teach people when we cannot understand the most important influences and events in their lives?

-Pg. XXIV, “curriculum standards reflect what some in society believe are things that students should know and be able to do, and thus cannot help but reflect only certain perspectives and advance only certain goals.” Therefore, these beliefs go unquestioned and do not take into account cultural differences, hence “curriculum can reinforce social hierarchies.”

-Pg. XXV, “Teaching towards social justice does not mean teaching the ‘better’ curriculum or the better story; rather it means teaching students to think independently, critically, and creatively about whatever story is being taught.”

-Pg. XXVI, “The norms of schooling, like the norms of society, privilege and benefit some groups and identities while  marginalizing and subordinating others on the basis of… social markers.” This is a major point for me because I think many people do not choose to see that in order for someone to benefit from something, someone else has to suffer or become hindered. This means denying student’s rights to be equal and have equal opportunities, and these are the dangers of common sense.

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