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A Pedegogical Predicament
Paulo Friere, E.D Hirsch and I are sitting in my teacher’s classroom. It is late morning to mid-day, and we are the only three in the room. We are discussing our pedagogical beliefs as well as critiquing, and questioning each other’s views. Freire, and Hirsch have sat in on all of the first semester, second period English classes, trying to come up with ideas for the second semester. Each of us has a pen and paper to note certain aspects of the other educational systems with which we agree, disagree, or for which we have recommendations. The three of us are well acquainted and ready to begin conversation on the topic.
Me-What, Mr. Hirsch, do you think is the most important thing worth knowing or learning?
Hirsch- Being Culturally Literate. I think that knowing at least a little bit about other cultures and our own is the key to connecting with people. Students need to learn about our history, and events of past generations to communicate with parents and teachers.
Friere- Why is it just the students job to become culturally literate, and not the teachers and the adults?
Hirsch- I think that by teaching cultural literacy, teachers and parents will learn more about the current era. It is both the parent’s and the teacher’s job to teach, thereby becoming culturally literate as well.
Me- Why is this so important in terms of learning?
Hirsch- Because if the teachers and parents are unable to connect with their students and children, how are they supposed actually learn without being lectured and having to memorize things constantly?
Freire- This is where I completely agree. This eliminates the aspect of the oppressors and the oppressed. They are able to communicate and learn from each other.
Me-I agree with that statement, but I also think that sometimes it is better to be lectured and forced to memorize things for the sake of difference. Any time something is overused it becomes boring and the students will lose focus and begin to stop listening all together. That’s why I think acting out plays by Shakespeare or reciting poetry via memory is a productive idea. It gets the students learning in different ways, as well as making those things something they remember forever. Shakespeare especially because there is a lot more to be picked up in terms of the message Shakespeare is sending, when his pieces are acted. Okay, Mr. Freire, do you think that the students are being oppressed by my teacher?
Friere- Yes and no. I think that for the most part, the students are coming up with plenty of ideas on their own, but your teacher is still the overseer and uses his authority to dominate the classroom environment.
Hirsch- Isn’t that his job as a teacher?
Freire- Yes, however I would like to see the students come up with more class discussions on their own without having to only be limited by the ones posed by the teacher. For example, each night students would be assigned to come up with X amount of discussion questions and several would be posed the following day in class. This would open up the environment so that the students would be more in charge.
Me-I would agree with that, but I think it is still necessary for my teacher to come up with questions that will make a more beneficial discussion rather than some questions that will lead us no where.
Friere- Yes but I think it is the student’s job to step away from that and be responsible and trusted enough to generate valid questions that will be beneficial to the classroom environment.
Hirsch- Then what does the teacher do?
Friere-He is used as a resource and gives suggestions. I think that because of the overall school system, the teacher also has to pick books, assign homework, and grade the students, but in my utopian, fantasy school, that would not be the case.
Me-I totally agree that the students need to be able to generate discussion and create their own learning environment. However, I think that the teacher should be used as a resource, but not only that. A teacher is an educator, it is their job to teach things in any way necessary. They need to pick the books and come up with a course structure, otherwise they have no worth. However, I think that a great idea would be to, at the end of each year, give a survey to the students to see what they are interested in reading. There could be a list of 25 or however many books to choose from, each with a description of the book. This would allow students to, for one, know what they are possibly going to learn next year, and two, have more say in the structure of the class from the get go. Obviously the teacher would have the final decision in the book, but I think it would make many students happier and more willing to work harder if they got a chance to state their feelings about reading choices. Nonetheless, educators would still, in some ways be the oppressor but they need to be, because that is the only way to make sure the students are becoming educated.
Hirsch-Will, how do you feel about your class system and, in the bigger picture, the school system?
Me-I think that among the various departments within the school, the English classes have the best structure. For example, the English final exam was the most meaningful of all my exams. I was actually able to look ahead and integrate what I learned and where I want to go, rather than cramming all of what I learned for the past 18 weeks into my head, as was the case in the rest of my classes. It provided an opportunity for improvement rather than a stress-filled block of studying time, memorizing information which most people forget a week later. Personally, I got a lot more out of it than I did for any other final. Even though I did better on a few tests, I was able to look at my flaws and try to build on them. This is truly a positive thing to do. I think it would be helpful in other subjects, not only in writing. I also like the way our classroom is set up and believe it is conducive to learning. We dig deep into the texts of some of history’s most revered authors and are left with a plethora of information that will be useful to us throughout our lives. Then we write about what we have read using a high level of evaluation and criticism. There is no doubt in my mind that this is more beneficial than memorizing the Pythagorean Theorem or how elements react.
Hirsch-Well, what if anything, do you think needs to be changed, or can be changed?
Me-I don’t think English needs to change all that much. I do think that discussions should be more of a student generated part of class especially deeper into the year. But in the rest of the classes, the grades should be based on the effort and will to learn of the student. Surely, there should still be tests and homework, but it should not mean nearly as much as it does. Participation is also a key factor in how I think the grades should be given, but there are many drawbacks that prevent using certain methods. If high grades are given to the students who participate the most, you will end up having kids just saying things for points, and that takes away from the class.
Freire-How can students be assessed in a valid way if the grade isn’t based on how much they have learned? Obviously, everyone isn’t good at test taking, but I can’t think of a system where that would work effectively.
Hirsch-I don’t think that there is any one way to go about doing this, there can be several ideas and use of trial and error to evaluate the effectiveness of this method.
Me- Agreed. One thing we could try is verbal tests, talking to the teacher or in a small group of students to eliminate the intimidation factor that some kids get while taking a test. These tests would be given to small groups and essentially they would have a debate. Each student would be assessed on their intellect and general understanding of the topic at hand as well as the effort each individual put into the discussion. There are so many little steps that can be taken, and I don’t think there will ever be a perfect system, but it is something worth working towards. Projects and essays are also a positive way to apply knowledge to a subject. They can be completed in less of an intimidating fashion and are just as, if not more, meaningful as far as application of knowledge to a subject. Despite the ability to use outside resources, the students can truly learn to argue a perspective, as well as learn how they honestly feel about a given subject.
Friere-What is your favorite aspect of your school as far as classes and options in those classes go?
Me- I love that there are so many classes and electives to choose from. It gives the students a preview of what a particular field is like, and the student can journey deeper into a field if they are interested. It is important to me to find something that I love doing rather than a job where I am going to be upset all of the time, and I think this is a phenomenal way of opening new doors for people. If everyone has a job that they truly enjoy doing, or a class that they love, they will work hard, and learn about themselves. I think this will stimulate students to reach for more. This will motivate a lot of underachieving students to reach to their limits and perhaps then they will not strive for less than what they are capable.