December 03, 2006

Freire = Postman + Weingartner?

Came across this definition of literacy, by Stanley Aronowitz in Henry
Giroux's foreword to Literacy by Paulo Freire and Don Macedo. What do you think? Is this the same as Postman and Weingartner's "bullshit
spotter" ability
"Stanley Aronowitz suggests a view of illiteracy as a form of cultural
The real issue for the "functionally" literate is whether they can decode the messages of media culture, counter official interpretations of social, economic, and political reality; whether they feel capable of critically evaluating events, or, indeed, of intervening in them. If we understand literacy as the ability of individuals and groups to locate themselves in history, to see themselves as social actors able to debate their collective futures, then the key obstacle to literacy is the sweeping privatization and pessimism that has come to pervade public life."

I'm trying to re-think my teaching goals: what are the problems, exactly, as I see them? Because my teaching goals are starting to become aimed at the problems that I see, rather than on specific linguistic abilities:
a) because I feel that learning is natural, and therefore if it isn't happening it may well be because of artificial blocks created (basically, what Holt said in How Children Fail, that children learn the game of school is not so much to learn but to get the right answer);
b) therefore my job should be mostly focussed on removing the blocks, rather than "teaching" (in the sense of transmitting information or training skills)
c) because, especially learning a language, a lot of the learning is noticing things (patterns of grammar, of lexis, of pronunciation, e.g. "student" is like "studio" in pronunciation; "blue" rhymes with "too" even tho they're spelled differently; "if 'carol' means a Christmas song, then 'caroling' which looks like a verb must mean..."), and the noticing happens on an personal level. Just because the teacher points something out doesn't mean that students will 'notice' it or learn from it. (SLA professionals who are familiar with Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development" theory did some interesting work on error-correction in Foreign Language Learning, and discovered from listening to recordings of students talking to each other while working on a problem, that even if one person points something out to the other, if the thing being pointed out is outside that person's "ZPD", it just doesn't register, either in the sense that the other makes some kind of acknowledgement or in the sense that it affects the other's actual language production. So there!).

What are the problems that you see?
What are your teaching goals (both for yourself and for your students)?

Problems that I see:
- lack of self-confidence in themselves as learners

- lack of a "voice" in their own learning ("check your personal history and feelings and knowledge at the door of the classroom; you don't know nothing and what you DO know isn't worth anything in here; only the "official" (teacher's/textbook's) knowledge has validity; THAT is what must be ingested and 'learned'")

- the positivist attitude towards classroom knowledge (see above: if "learning" means absorbing / memorizing/ remembering the "official knowledge", then obviously there's no need for students to debate, discuss, question or otherwise interact with the knowledge, just learn it) ("Positivism is the most evolved stage of society in anthropological Evolutionism, the point where science and rational explanation for scientific phenomena develops. Marxism and predictive dialectics is a highly positivist system of theory. However Marxism rejects positivism and views it as subjective idealism, because it limits itself only to facts and does not examine the underlying causes of things." - from Wikipedia)

- the lack of initiative (see above and above that: if there is no need for students to interact with knowledge (which belief is based on ignorance of the fact that only thru interaction/dialogue can real, deep, meaningful learning take place) then there is also no need for students to think for themselves; in fact, it's dangerous. Just as official knowledge requires no questioning, then neither does the actions of the teacher, and the teacher must therefore not only transmit the knowledge but also explicitly tell students what they must do with it. Hence, after receiving their handouts, students will just sit there, waiting to be told what to do with this (the Chinese students are different, tho; they don't wait: they see a worksheet with blanks, they start filling them out!))

- lack of communication/feedback: lack of initiative means also lack of response (there's no need for it; all they have to do is listen and learn/remember), which makes a Western (someone from an individualist country) teacher's job problematic: a Socratic approach becomes almost impossible. This lack of response (a 1995 JALT article was entitled "Answer! Please answer!") pressures the teacher into a "sage on the stage" approach, even if she/he doesn't want to and doesn't believe in that;

- little or no sense of their peers as people they can learn from, or of themselves as people who have something to teach others (that's not possible; remember, they're in school to learn the OFFICIAL KNOWLEDGE as purveyed by the OFFICIAL TRANSMITTER)

- lack of good study skills (pretty much summed up by the above): they might include many of the ones listed in Mosaic of Thought as the habits of effective readers.

If my perception is accurate (a big "if", which I need to bear in mind), even partially, then it's unlikely that much meaningful learning will take place in the classroom, however well prepared the teacher is, and however "good" the material is.

Trying to "teach" without addressing the above issues seems to me to promise nothing but boredom and frustration, for both teachers and students.

Looking back over my list, I notice the word "lack" appears several times: I need to be careful that I don't fall into the trap of the "deficit" model of learning, i.e. students "lack" all these things, therefore my job as teacher is to FILL UP this deficit. That's just falling into the same old trap: teacher knows best, and it's the teacher's job to teach; the student is a tabula rasa on which the teacher writes (cf Freire's "banking" concept of education)

(related resources:
- Disempowerment, Bullying, and School Non-Attendance: A Hypothesis

by Yoneyama Shaoko

- Education, Apathy and Post-Meritocracy

by Brian McVeigh

- nnotated A Bibliography of Books on Education in Japan

- Korst, T. (1997). Answer, please answer! A perspective on Japanese university students' silent response to questions. The JALT Journal, 19, 279-91.

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