Public schools, critical pedagogy and becoming rebels. Was Re: [PEN-L] From Michael Yates (on academia)

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Sat Nov 8 12:29:32 MST 2003


Xenon,

I'm not denying that good educators (and any good educator, whether he or
she considers herself "progressive" or "revolutionary" or not, worth his or
her salt will promote "critical thinking" and questioning) can on occasion
help in students' political development, but as a former (and probably
future) public school teacher, I can tell you adamantly that it is not a
panacaea. First, and foremost, what decides the development of student
awareness is that student's own experiences. Think about your own political
development. My teachers played little, if any role in my development AS
TEACHERS. I came up in the anti-war movement, and what most affected me on
the part of my teachers, is that some of them marched against the war. Of
course Paulo Freire would have nodded approvingly and said that is part of
"praxis" in the educational process. I spent ten years teaching working
class high school kids science, and trying to promote rebellion (critical
thinking and organizing) against our beloved social order. Most students
were utterly complacent or resentful, many agreed, but went about their
business. And that was the end of it. Matter over mind. Their insertion in
society, their lived experiences, and also the ideological torrent to which
the student is exposed his/her whole life, 24/7. Hegemony. Remember, too,
that school is an instrument of social domination, and students often see
it that way. Only on ONE occasion, can I claim any influence at all. A
Dominican student by the name of Stalin (!!!), who evidently already had
some politics in his background, went on to become a CUNY student leader
and rabble-rouser ("un muchacho del can," as he put it -- and no, that
doesn't mean "can do" -- I'll leave you guessing). I ran into him one day,
and he told me I had something to do with that. Freire made an important
point in regard to this issue of "praxis" at a conference in the early 90s.
He related that he had been teaching junior college students in
Switzerland. He had been promoting "critical pedagogy," "learning to
question," etc. At the end of the semester, the students were as atomized,
complacent and unmoved as ever. So, he asked them to reflect on what
happened. One of them said to him, "look, you talked all semester about
popular organizing, critical thinking, etc. You gave it to us on a silver
platter. But you didn't give us anything to pull against." The moral of
this story is that maybe Catholic schools are better at producing rebels
than "progressive" schools!

Mike

>Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2003 12:30:18 -0500
>From: Xenon Zi-Neng Yuan <wenhuadageming at comcast.net>
>Subject: Re: [PEN-L] From Michael Yates (on academia)
>
>At 09:03 AM 11/8/2003 -0800, michael wrote:
> >I just started Michael Yates book last night.  50 pages in, it is
> wonderful so
> >far.
> >
> >I disagree with Michael's post on academia.  I don't think that the student
> >body is nearly as bad as he makes out.  Yes, they are ill-informed, but
> so was
> >I at that stage in my life.  They are also hungry for something -- often
> they
> >do not know what.
> >
> >When you work with them as individuals, some will come alive and take an
> >interest in positive things.  If I can make a difference with one or two
> in a
> >class, I would consider that a major success.
> >
> >The fact that there are so few alternative voices makes lefties presence in
> >college even more important.  I feed absolutely confident in saying that
> >Michael Y's absence from his school represented a great loss to his
> students.
>
>equally, if not more important, it seems to me, is the presence of lefties
>in primary school education, where essential critical thinking skills are
>more easily assimilated.
>
>xzy


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