Teaching the revolution

Hi Alec

Here are my delayed reflections on the snippet of conversation I caught the night we were all at the Flying Fox during Learning 2.010.  Questions I will continue to ask, no doubt.

I was a little sad that I didn’t get to fully engage in the conversations happening at the Flying Fox, but life goals and sheer delight kept me deeply engrossed in musical musings.  The one part of the conversation that did catch my attention was the discussion on teaching the revolution.  This is such a complex issue, and one that I am hoping to engage with as a part of my own educational journey in the hopes that I will also one day roam the halls of academia as one of the profs.  who open the doors of perception for her students.

My contentions come not only in the power relations between students and professors.  I have had the pleasure of being in some truly supportive alternative classrooms where assessment can be flexible not only because of the beliefs of the professor, but also because of the intimate relationships built in those classrooms.  While I have never had my own group of students, I imagine that during the course of a semester you can begin to identify through in-class dialogue, submitted assignments, quiz/testing scores as well as interaction within the larger community, who the “A” students are and who needs to gain further analytical/reporting skills (with proper referrals to other courses or campus facilities).  The problem is, at the end of the day, you are still required within the system to hand out marks, and these marks have real impacts on the lives of your students, determining what scholarships they are eligible for as well as future academic prospects.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but your choice of assessment can also have a very real impact on your own career.  Discussions with English professors lamenting the quality of 100-level students revealed the repercussions of failing an entire section of a course: students contesting grades and problems for professors.

So putting aside the problem of grading for the moment (though I recognize the system has real effects for students and profs.), how is it possible to teach the revolution within your own classroom?  How can one remain true to the ethics and beliefs one has cultivated as a learned individual, while still allowing space for students to rail against these pre-constructed notions of truth?  Is the most effective teaching method one in which students rebel against the professor as a power-knowledge broker?  Or is the only revolution worth participating in the one I tell my students about in my classroom?  Is my classroom merely a space for me to amass a larger cohort to spread my ideas of change?

And as a student, when I enter a classroom that promises to be a safe place to explore alternate realities, should I trust that anything within reason can be explored?  Certainly I realize that I am expected to closely scrutinize my own perception of truth, but how far am I allowed to stretch the boundaries of the classroom?  How should my explorations be valued by my professor, and am I able to expect that my revolution is as valid as the one being taught to me?

Perhaps what I am asking is how to be a respectful revolutionary student and teacher.  How do I respect someone else’s revolution while I sew the seeds of my own?  And how do I deal with professors who claim they want me to find my own path to change, but don’t actually support me in that endeavour?  How do I approach those who refuse to provide points of clarification on their own revolution?

Of course this is a postmodernist approach to the teaching profession.  The goal becomes teaching a revolution that can be deconstructed by students and rebelled against.  Interestingly enough, I have had a professor whose classroom seemed to be that complex.  His revolution was radical Christianity as a cure to the post-modern ills within the framework of a 100-level Sociology course.  It turned out that he really was a radical Christian and was not actually encouraging the class to consider other frameworks, but was looking for conversion of his students.  He remains a great example of how adopting a viewpoint outside the dominant paradigm can encourage students to reevaluate prescribed reality, deconstruct it, and create their own revolution.  The course was unique and engaging, though I continue to ponder how one can teach students to rebel without losing control of the class.  How does one then approach assessment at the end of the day, not only in the difficulty of the rubric, but also in the setting aside of a personal agenda in order to evaluate how a student has performed in the process of thought, not just the product?  Do you mark students higher if they turn their rebellion on you?  In that case, do I bother hosting a polite revolution in my upcoming courses? Exhausting thought!

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2 Responses to “Teaching the revolution”

  1. […] do?  Again, I find myself drawn to Freire’s critique of the banking model of education, and this post that I wrote after meeting Alec for the first time at Learning 2.010.  Pushing students to think […]

  2. […] the end, educators must be cognizant of their own influence. As in my questions to Alec Couros in a post years ago, I wonder how to resolve the tension between teaching and liberating. How can we address the […]

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