Theme 1 – Social Purpose Teaching

What could you relate to in the book as a social purpose teacher? What particularly chimed with you, and was there anything that didn’t?

Post your comments below…


7 thoughts on “Theme 1 – Social Purpose Teaching”

  1. What resonated with me most strongly was bell’s statement on page 37 that “…no education is politically neutral.” That whole chapter, Embracing Change, was exciting for me. I felt that she cut through so much of the rhubarb that is talked about inclusion and also was explicit about the pain we all experience (as students and teachers) when we are required to “shift [our] paradigm.” (by which I take her to mean deep and radical change to our thinking and practice). In the same chapter, I wrote down the following quotes, whilst shouting YES! YES! :-):

    “Making the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute is a central goal of transformative pedagogy.” p.39

    “It has been my experience that one way to build community in the classroom is to recognise the value of each individual voice.” p.40

    YES! YES! This is what I think of as proper differentiation and have described as two-thirds of embedding diversity. I was even more excited when bell went on to talk about the use of reflective journals to hear these voices – recently the PTLLS team, despite the massive and largely unpaid work involved, vindicated the use of the reflexive journal as a superb method of hearing and responding to the indivdual ie differentiated teaching and learning.

    I also liked bell’s firmness in this chapter: “Some students resent having to make a verbal contribution, and so I have had to make it clear from the outset that this is a requirement in my classes.” p41 I often seem to be dealing with complaints or threats of complaints and many of these seem to be on the grounds of objecting to a pedagogy where the student has to step up, more than they’ve ever been asked to before. Paradigm change IS painful.

    I have had to confront some stuff in myself which I thought was long gone and which is what stopped me persisting with the book a few years ago. One of these areas was when bell writes with humility about having to let go of the need to have students like her – something really powerful in me for a long time and which impacted on my practice. It’s still there a bit and I’ll probably explore it more when I think about the Eros chapter. The other area is when I imagine through the filter of my own ‘stuff’ that bell is proposing a hierarchy of exclusion, where you’re not excluded enough if you’re not a person of colour. Like many working class people, I’ve had the experience of being told that I’m privileged because of the colour of my skin, when I’ve not felt privileged at all – usually by people who are more economically and culturally privileged than me. Being told I can’t be working-class any more is part of this discourse. (I think this is at the root of much working-class disaffection, unhappiness and prejudice against others). The times when I stop taking in bell’s message are the times when I think she is saying this too. Of course I can’t know for sure but I don’t think she really is – I think my own internalised oppressions are speaking.

    The fact that I get in a knot in my thinking about this – as evidenced by the clumsy paragraph above – reminds me of what Nancy Kline has to say about encouragement going beyond the ‘cutting edge of competition.’ These sorts of thoughts come out of setting up an exclusion/prejudice hierarchy in the first place. Listening to any discourse in the media, including Twitter, means hearing all the implicit ‘more than’ type of competition…the whole ‘what’s your favourite?’ culture. Makes me want to stamp out either/or (which literally has no place in the thinking environment).

    I don’t know where my thinking will go with this, sorry for the rambling.

    1. It is quite a hard book to read. I wonder why that is. Could it be the use of language? Syntax? Punctuation? Font? Is it the structure of the book? I sat down today and waded through it for an hour, but every 10 minutes my mind drifted.

      Some parts are better than others in terms of readability – her dialogue with her other self is fantastic, her autobiographical reflections are fascinating, her analysis of feminism, university life and patriarchy are spot on. So why is it hard to read? Is it because it is uncomfortable to be challenged with being white and male? (and sexist, I can admit that).

      I think, on reflection, that the book is like a Victorian savoury game jelly: a curious mixture of discomforting and unpalatable (gristle) surrounded by the passionate and the deep (venison, hare or pheasant), but set in a jelly of underseasoned calf’s foot. You have to eat your way through the calf’s foot jelly to get to the gamey pieces and either mentally avoid the unpalatable gristly bits or let them challenge you.

      1. I love your metaphor! Though it did make me feel slightly poorly, reading it before breakfast…

        You’ve illustrated criticality here. It’s a non-binary approach to reading – not, “I love it” or “I hate it” but…this bit was fabulous, this bit fascinating, this bit uncomfortable, this bit obscure etc. I have been struggling with teaching (and explaining) criticality. I’m going to think metaphors now…

  2. I want learners like me – until they start acting like me, asking difficult questions, thinking for themselves, challenging my limitations, seeing different ways of doing things. Then I wonder what I have created…

    The challenge then, apart from allowing the voice to be heard especially when I don’t want to hear it, is to honour it with my attention and respect, like Freire honoured bell’s voice. The second challenge is to act on it.

    it takes courage to be open to the new, the different, and the extraordinary, and as I reflect what’s what I ask of those whose limitations I challenge, whose ways of doing things I suggest their is an alternative, and who I ask difficult questions of.

    A little reflection on how I was schooled… my school taught me to think, to consider every alternative, to way up and pros and cons of every idea, and to debate with the best. What they didn’t teach was to listen to voices from the marginalised, the powerless and the excluded.

  3. Yes, those absent identities…so much more than a poster on a wall, however well-intentioned that is.

    I was unclear in my language, bell wanted learners to like her, rather than be like her (or did she want that too?) but your point is sound, Rev, and I will think some more. Years ago I taught some community activists who developed the confidence to go out and oppress one another (they are still doing it). I learned so much from that about impact and consequences!!!

  4. Oppression dehumanizes and liberation humanizes, the thing to avoid is the oppressed becoming the new oppressors. That’s why we moderate Saul Alinsky with the humanizing face of Paulo Freire. Alinsky breaks the rules, he is for the win at any cost. Freire sees the danger.

    I misinterpreted what you wrote, my mistake, but the point about Teaching Defiance or Teaching to Transgress is that it creates learners who are defiant and transgressors. The title itself implies a divergent learner.

  5. It was a great point, I’m glad you misinterpreted it Rev. I love the diversity implicit in ‘trangressing’ and ‘defying’. Learning through media like NVC and Community Philosophy to express divergent views in groups to maximise respect, learning and open-mindedness is also crucial and a great life-skill. Polarised and competitive thinking is everywhere in our society…

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