Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Changing the Discourse in Schools

This week Cohort II of the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows meets in Oakland, CA for the first time face-to-face.This week will require not only deeper learning but deep reflection, designing/gaining empathy for others and sharing our stories - most importantly it's about having a bias for action. Given the events of the last few weeks the timing couldn't be better to gather with a group of social justice change-agents form across the nation. I've done several pre-work readings and assessments of my own practice. One of the readings claims, "Teachers are seldom if ever given the opportunity to do active learning and engage in reflective discourse about the effects of their work." Everyone that reads my work or tweets knows I promote and have done research on active leaning to improve teaching and learning in schools. However, it takes much more than active learning and innovative approaches to teaching to support and build systemic change in schools. In urban schools administrators and educators must also be sensitive to using existing cultural ways that promotes symptomatic issues like attendance, dropouts, discipline, low test scores, and low grades. 

Often in cultural organizations like schools, we exchange one cultural way for another that maintains outcomes that sort by race, class, and gender. We simply follow "the change process" and implement something adapted to the old cultural ways. A fundamental belief in process is part of school cultures. If we followed the process and nothing changed, then the explanation must be in the thing being implemented. It did not work. This cultural way is a major factor in allowing schools to have the appearance of responding to change without having to change anything substantive."  Many folks have suggested to me that the way to improve urban-type schools is through more structured "discipline," I would disagree.  One of the readings (Eubanks, Parish, Smith) suggests that urban type schools are viewed as "needing more structure" because they are "from disadvantaged conditions" or "from single parent families" or "working families" or "more dangerous." The problem is viewed as part of something in the students and their lives outside of school. Therefore, controlling or "teaching them discipline" is viewed as a solution. Approaches like this have the effect of maintaining the existing cultural ways in schools. This summer I also became a fan of Professor Chris Emdin's work and took his teaching on reality pedagogy to heart. We have carefully adopted his strategies into our school culture, not tried to "change" or blame students but to support them and the unique culture they bring to our community. 

Oftentimes, we blame everyone and everywhere except where the problem probably largely lies-in a social/economic-cultural system that requires and "needs" to create persons of poverty to preserve a well-protected system of social privilege (Fine, 1990). Adam Smith (1776) said that in order to create persons of wealth to advance civilization, it is necessary to create persons of poverty. Six hundred to one was his ratio. In America today the ratio may be a little higher. Both today and in the future, knowledge and creation of meaning will be essential for whatever life choices people wish to make. To deny a person the fullest intellectual and personal development is to deny a fundamental human right. Certainly, in our social context it denies property, liberty, and probably eventually life. "Everyone will not want the same things or same paths, but to have a choice requires intellectual
development beyond that to what we now provide for a select 20 percent" This statement is profound and why programs like the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows exist. We must somehow find ways to help our educators confront this system of schooling that continues and maintains the hegemony and sorting (hooks, 1992a; Shor and Freire, 1987; Parish et al., 1989). The challenge before us is how to go about changing the work of schools. How do we change so that the work and convenience of the adults, takes second place to learning, for everyone? How do we help those in schools cut through cultural myths without making them feel defensive, guilty, or at fault? 

More this week as I learn with and from my cohort of Deeper Learning Equity Fellows. 


Eugene Eubanks, Ralph Parish and Dianne Smith. “Changing the Discourse in Schools.” In Race, Ethnicity, and Multiculturalism: Policy and Practice, ed. Peter Hall. New York: Routledge, 1997.

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