Unit 1 – Critical Theory
Power, control, and dominance are all words that could be used to describe the hierarchical structure of an education system. Reflecting back on everything discussed in this week’s lecture notes, I cannot help but grasp onto the section discussing education, particularly the power relations that take place within the education system. Having just completed a Curriculum Development course, I am recalling discussions from that class. In learning about the history of early curriculum development, I was astonished to learn the primary goals established in the early 1900’s remain the same today. Franklin John Bobbitt has been considered the ‘father of curriculum studies’. He equated education to being like a factory; we, as teachers, are merely creating a product. We are shaping young people to fit into future careers, rather than taking the time to care and nurture their interests and provide opportunities for exploration. Bobbitt asserted that we are simply preparing children for adulthood with the future needs, skills, and competencies they require to be successful. This continues to be the case and continues to be a discussion in education today. When a teacher is asked to justify a project or assignment taking place in his/her classroom, the teacher is required to connect it to curriculum outcomes, which are determined by the “leaders” in education, ie. the government. These outcomes are intended to include everything students need to know in order to maintain successful careers in adulthood. Teachers do not have the freedom to create a ‘lived’ or fluid curriculum where they allow for student growth and exploration based on individual interests, desires, and needs, rather than the factory protocol. Decisions are made at the top of the hierarchy and they then trickle down to the orderly minions below. Teachers are bound to teach what they are told and failure to do so results in consequences for the teacher, regardless of how beneficial it may be for the students involved. So many learning opportunities are missed or left out because they do not fit into the structure that has been imposed upon a system intended to teach all children.
There are of course exceptions to this model. There are teachers who continue to stand up and push the boundaries to include learning opportunities regardless of whether they fit nicely into the curricular box they are expected to use. These teachers provide opportunities for student growth and development and push to provide students with experiences where they may be exposed to opportunities that are pushing the limit of curricular outcomes. In order for this to happen, there needs to be some support and the hierarchical structure within the school setting needs to provide trust. Both the administration and the teacher need to have a mutual understanding about what is best for the students and the impact of working outside the box. We, as educators, need to remember we are not only working to provide our students with skills to be successful in their future endeavors, but we are also planting seeds to allow for students to grow. By nurturing those seeds and providing some freedom to expand students are given the opportunity to grow beyond the skills prescribed by those at the top of the hierarchy. It is through expanding those curricular boundaries that teachers are pushing beyond the factory model imposed upon them for over a century.
Teaching is such a personal experience and having the powers from above dictating what should be taught, how it should be taught, and when it should be taught takes the individuality out of the experience. Learning is not prescriptive, but rather should exist organically when someone is interested, curious, or engaged in a subject area. Teaching has become somewhat stagnant where teachers are simply teaching from published guides that were written by people who have never been in a classroom or worked with children before. Teachers need to stand-up for education and take teaching into their own hands. Teachers need to begin facilitating the learning process for the individuals in their classroom. When this happens a weird thing occurs within the classroom setting; students begin to take on leadership roles and sometimes even teach the teacher a thing or two!
Here is an interesting article about what happens when students begin teaching in the classroom. When students take on this kind of leadership in the classroom, not only are they more engaged, but they also take on some ownership and responsibility in not only their learning but the learning experience of their peers. Talk about flipping the power structures within education by the waist-side!
I would love to hear from you. What has been some of your experiences regarding students teaching within your classrooms? How have you seen the role of the teacher changed from “teacher of knowledge” toward more of a “facilitator of learning”? Have you noticed a power shift within education, or do you think teachers are becoming more focussed on this factory model?