Saturday, November 30, 2013

Liberation Praxis: Participation & Inquiry

Reflecting on Quotes from Ira Shor’s Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change article


“Get up, stand up: Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up: Don’t give up the fight.”

–Bob Marley 

            I really enjoyed the first chapter of this piece immensely. This article was an accumulation of a few of my passions regarding teaching. It touched upon allowing the students to decide what they would be learning based on their interests and prior knowledge. It also talked about how important participation in the world is in helping students know first-hand how their help makes a difference. It talks about encourages students to become empowered by asking questions and seeking out the answers. By standing up for what they believe and fighting for the change that will give them what they deserve. Liberation is as praxis: the action and reflection of people upon their world in order to transform it” (Shor, 33)
            The tools we need in order to empower our students have been given to us this semester has we read through the articles each week and then blogged about them. As I read through this article I kept stumbling upon connections with all of the texts we had read. Some had one more than one author that related to the passage but here I just put down the author that came to mind first. I flagged them and will share them here:

·         August’s “Creating Safe Spaces: “Our role as teachers is to create a safe environment in which students can express opinions and most importantly, generate their own language materials for learning and peer-teaching” (Shor, 43).

August’s Advocacy & Protection: “From a critical point of view, existing cannons of knowledge and usage are not a common culture; they have ignored the multicultural themes, idioms and achievements of non-elite groups such as woman, minorities, homosexuals and working people.

·         Christensen’s Media Control: “The hostile reception in the mass media and in academic circles in the United States to feminist and multicultural studies since the 1960’s exemplifies the political nature of apparently neutral knowledge” (Shor, 34).

·         Collier’s “Code-Switching”: “As writing teachers to Afro-Caribbean students, they taught the community idiom, Creole and standard English simultaneously. They did not install white English as the preferred idiom in the classroom. Instead they developed bilingual literacy and a political awareness of the relationship between the dominant and the community languages” (Shor, 48).

Collier’s Acceptance of Home Language: “Their class in Creole and standard English is an example of multicultural language arts seeking a critical and democratic balance between community speech and the dominant usage, without denying either” (Shor, 50)

·         Delpit’s “Rules and Codes of Power”: “As conscious human beings, we can discover how we are conditioned by the dominant ideology. We can gain distance on our moment of existence…we can struggle free precisely because we know we aren’t free! That is why we can think of transformation. Human beings are capable of overcoming limits if they can openly examine them. The participatory class offers that possibility” (Shor, 22-23)

Delpit’s “Rules and Codes of Power”: “Most kids like the sound of their home language better…we talk about why it might be necessary to learn standard English…asking my students to memorize the rules without asking who makes the rules, who enforces the rues, who benefits from the rules, who loses from the rules…legitimates a social system that devalues my students’ knowledge and language” (Shor, 53).

·         Johnston’s “Say the Words”: “Politics reside not only in subjects matter but in the discourse of the classroom; in the way teachers and students speak to each other. The rules for talking are a key mechanism for empowering or disempowering students” (Shor, 14).

·         Kohl’s “I Won’t Learn From You Technique”: “Many students do not like the knowledge, process or rules set out for them in class. In reaction, they drop out or withdraw into passivity or silence in the classroom. Some become self-educated; some sabotage the curriculum by misbehaving” (Shor, 14).

Kohl’s “I Won’t Learn From You Technique”: The Performance Strike: Until students experience lively participation, mutual authority and meaningful work, they will display depr4essed skills and knowledge, as well as negative emotions. Teachers will be measuring and reacting to an artificially low picture of student abilities” (Shor, 21)

Kohl’s “I Won’t Learn From You Technique”: “The authoritarian traditional curriculum itself generate bad feelings with lead many students to resist or sabotage the lessons” (Shor, 24)

Kohl’s “I Won’t Learn From You Technique”: Some follow instructions, others go around them; some manipulate the teacher; still others undermine the class. In such an environment, many students become cynical, identifying intellectual life with dullness and indignity” (Shor, 26).

·         Kohn’s “Manipulating Children”: “Education can socialize students into critical through or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean” (Shor, 13).

Kohn’s “Reducing Achievement”: “The typical classroom is framed by competition. Star charts on the wall announce who has been successful at learning…competition encourages people to survey other people’s differences for potential weak spots” (Shor, 23-24)

·         Kozol’s The Poor Remain Poor Theory: “School funding is another political dimension of education, because more money had always been invested in the education of upper-class children and elite collegians than has been spent on students from lower-income homes and in community college” (Shor, 15).

·         Kozol’s Stereotyping Theory: “Low status traditionally ascribed to everyday language…the medium of expression of those colonized was always viewed by the colonists as something inferior, ugly, poverty-stricken, incapable for example of conveying scientific or technological ideas, as if languages did not change historically in step with actual developments in the forces of production” (Shor, 52).

·         McIntosh’s Privileges: “Not encouraging students to question knowledge, society and experience tacitly endorses and supports the status quo” (Shor, 12).

McIntosh’s Privileges: “Instead of blaming themselves, they learned that the problem of doing well in school is a problem of an unequal society that devalues the idiom spoken by ordinary people” (Shor, 53)

·         Westheimer’s Reflecting Upon Service Learning: “Piaget says ‘Knowledge is derived from action…to know an object is to act upon it and to transform it…to know is therefore to assimilate reality into structures of transformation and these are the structures that intelligence constructs as a direct extension of our actions.’ With a Deweyan emphasis, Piaget reiterated that we learn by doing and thinking about our experience” (Shor, 17).

Other than all the quotes I listed above, I found six more that really stood out for me that I will continue to discuss here. They touched upon everything from empowerment to reflecting to participating to keeping an open mind in order to accept differences and things we at first don’t understand. These are all key elements in teaching in my opinion. “Schools need to be defended as an important public service that educates students to be critical citizens who can think, challenge, take risks and believe that their actions will make a difference in a larger society” (Shor 16).

The aspect I have always struggled with the most is that balance between teaching what I think is right whilst not enforcing my beliefs on my students, instead encouraging them to think and feel for themselves. “By limiting creative and critical questioning, the banking model makes education into an authoritarian transfer instead of a democratic experience. Any material imposed by authority as doctrine stops being knowledge and becomes dogma. Critical learning and democratic education end where orthodoxy begins” (Shor, 34).

“In the social setting of education, passive curricula help prepare students for life in undemocratic institutions. Students do not practice democratic habits in co-governing their classroom, schools or colleges. There, they learn that unilateral authority is the normal way things are done in society. They are introduced in school to the reality of management holding dominant unelected power. At the same time they are told that they live in freedom and democracy” (Shor, 19). The rules and code of power keep the students opinions at bay. They are taught that their needs and thoughts do not matter. This is why it’s so important to run a democratic classroom, where we can show our students that their voice doe sin fact matter greatly.

“To help move students away from passivity and cynicism, a powerful signal has to be sent from the very start, a signal that learning is participatory, involving humour, hope and curiosity. A strong participatory and affective opening broadcasts optimistic feelings about the students’ potential and about the future; students are people whose voices are worth listening to, whose minds can carry the weight of serious intellectual work, whose thought and feeling can entertain transforming self and society” (Shor, 26) This is important because we must allow students to know how much their opinions matter. They must be taught that their voice is powerful and needs to be used. By having open discussion forums in class, they can feel the rush and excitement of adding to the conversation!


I would like to sum up this piece with two quotes.  I’ll reward you with a video and the middle. “People begin life as motivated learners, not as passive beings. Children naturally join the world around them. They learn by interacting, by experimenting and by using play to internalize the meaning of words and experience. Language intrigues children; they have needs they want met; they busy the older people in their lives with questions and requests for show me, tell me. But year by year their dynamic learning erodes in passive classrooms not organized around their cultural backgrounds, conditions or interests. Their curiosity and social instincts decline until many become nonparticipants” (Shor, 17). This touched me so deeply because I have always subscribed to the theory that children know more than we could ever know. They are so much wiser than we are because they are untainted by society still. They still believe in their hopes and dreams and goodness and Santa Claus. Then we slowly strip away their confidence and passion for play and life. They do love to learn, they want to learn and grow much more so than most adults. So why not allow them to?
This video of Sir Ken Robinson speaking on Changing Education Paradigms, edited and drawn by the RSA team plays to the very themes in the above quote. It also touches upon all of the issues brought up in this piece as well as lots of other pressing education issues like the lack of the arts, creativity and the old industrial revolution format of our education system. It’s only eleven minutes long. Please watch it. Robinson is funny, smart, witty and passionate about what we all care about.
          The last thing I’d like to share (I know I’m dragging it out, it’s our final blog post after all!) is a quote from this piece which I refer to as the holy grail. This is why knowledge is power and why it’s so important that we how our students that they have the power to make great change! “Knowledge has always been a place where forces contend for power, as Galileo discovered in his conflicts with the Vatican, as slaveholders in the American south understood when they made it illegal to teach slaves to read or write and as the Bush White House demonstrated when it imposed strict censorship on the coverage of the Gulf War. In no society is knowledge a neutral terrain. Because some groups in history have had the power to establish standard knowledge and standard usage, these canons need to be studied critically, not absorbed as a bogus common culture” (Shor, 34-35). Food for thought indeed! 

Questions For Class:

·         The aspect I have always struggled with the most is that balance between teaching what I think is right whilst not enforcing my beliefs on my students, instead encouraging them to think and feel for themselves. What are some ways that I can use in order to not allow my passion to persuade others to believe what I do while still sharing what I believe is right to encourage them to do what’s right?

Picture Links:


  1. where did you find this article? I have been searching for ever! lol

    1. Hey Julia,

      Go to the library reserves as usual, but instead of typing in "Bogad", type in "August". It's the Shor article. :)

      - Jamie

  2. Hi Jocelyn,

    This is a great post! I started keeping track of the connections too after I noticed a few, and as reflected in your list of quotes, I think just about every previous reading appeared. I really like your statement: "This touched me so deeply because I have always subscribed to the theory that children know more than we could ever know. They are so much wiser than we are because they are untainted by society still." This is so true. Young kids are so eager, observant, honest, and have no filter -- which is one of the things I've enjoyed about my placement with kindergarteners. If only we could keep them unjaded forever! Shor's idea of an empowering education could help do just that.

    - Jamie

  3. Hi Jocelyn,

    Your blog post this week was (as always) super informative. I haven't read the article yet but reading your post has helped me prepare. I love how you used to quotes to relate to all past authors. The video you used was awesome. I want to look up more information by that Sir Ken Robinson, I think his ideas about education are really on point!


  4. Hi Jocelyn,

    I have to agree with Chelsea. I love coming over to your blog posts. This weeks article was tough for me to get through so my first thought was to come to your blog. :) Thanks for clearing a few things up for me!


  5. Hey Jocelyn,

    As always fantastic job, out of the many quotes you included one really spoke to me.

    “To help move students away from passivity and cynicism, a powerful signal has to be sent from the very start, a signal that learning is participatory, involving humour, hope and curiosity."

    I couldn't agree more with this sentiment because all students need is positive reinforcement focused on their responses to questions posed to them in class.

  6. J -- this is the activity that I usually do in class for Shor! Finding all of these connections :) Great post.