Sunday, March 2, 2014

What if all teaching is community organizing?

If you have ever doubted the power of literacy and learning, you only need to watch this video and think about how our interests shape us and drive us to learn.  I love how Constance Steinkuehler shares her vulnerability as a teacher when addressing a group of young men that she thinks are going to be excited to hear what she has planned for them.  She calls it the, "Tell me when she stops talking" phenomenon.  I think this happens for too many of our students too much of the time and it reminded me of how much I'd like to flip education on it's head.

It also reminded me of Paulo Freire, a literacy researcher who did flip education on it's head!  He created a movement that has been called "liberation theology" and "critical pedagogy" because he dared to teach the poor of Brazil how to read in 45 days - based on their interests - which revolved around being able to express their political opinions and vote - which required literacy skills.  Rather than teach them "from the beginning" about the "blue bus" or whatever it is we make beginning readers read until they're "ready."  Freire created "culture circles" that were based on a dialogue about events important in the community.  He spent time in the community and listened for themes, then introduced the topics and encouraged questioning and exploration.  He was so successful in empowering the poor through this method that he was imprisoned as a traitor for 70 days!  His most well-known book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, proposes a new relationship between teacher, student and society where they are co-creators of knowledge.  If we know that interest-based learning is effective - I mean, really - how can you NOT learn if you love something?  Then why aren't student interests more at the focus of what we're trying to do?  Why do we have to control all the learning and tell students what's good for them?  Then blame them when they don't want to do it "our" way?  Really?  Why haven't we evolved to a place where all learners can find their interests represented and take ownership for their learning?

Paulo Freire

The International Literacy Institute interview with Paulo Freire:

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