Carol A. Hand
“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” (George Bernard Shaw, 1903, Maxims for Revolutionists)
I wonder. How many people believe Shaw’s words to be true?
Perhaps it is for those who define what they do as “teaching.” The narrow view that those we call “students” are empty vessels waiting for experts to fill them up with facts and status quo explanations. What if, like Freire, we view the foundation of education, both of others and ourselves, as a never ending process that emerges from experience, observations, dialogue and critical reflection?
“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” (Paulo Freire)
The role of an educator carries the responsibility for careful reflection about how to use the prevailing social institutions (or explore the possibility of new ones) to liberate rather than oppress. That means creating an environment where inquiry and curiosity are encouraged, where it’s safe to question everything and engage in honest, critical reflection and dialogue about the world as it was, is, and could be.
“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
What if you have been able to do the things you’re hired to “teach” about? That doesn’t make it easy to pass on knowledge and skills to others. Often what you know came as a result of trial and error in the real world, reinventing the wheel in specific contexts through authentic egalitarian dialogic partnerships with others. Is this something that you can allow others to experience in a 15-week semester?
This is the task a friend and I are presently trying to address as we attempt to integrate courses on research and community practice. It’s why I don’t post much these days. Yesterday, we spent hours planning how to integrate and sequence our assignments to provide the knowledge students will need for competent ethical practice in the future and experiential learning opportunities to test it out in “close to real-life” situations.
The real challenge for both of us, working in partnership, is to create an environment for students to learn for themselves what we have both been able to do in the past (and still do as our current efforts demonstrate). Can we “do” community practice and research in the context of these classes nested within an educational institution? For me, it is a mini-research study. “What works and what doesn’t?” For my colleague, it’s an opportunity to engage students in our classes as groups and as a a whole community in the process of planning respectful, liberatory, beneficent community change. There are crucial lessons to be learned for all of us by working together.
Image: Community Clip Art
“The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)