Category Archives: ECS 210

My Tallest Mountain

As with many assigned readings, I was not very excited to read “The Problem of Common Sense” (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice pp. XXIX – XLI), but when I actually got into it I found the story and comparison to Nepal very interesting. Towards the end of the reading, I even wanted to go out and buy the book for myself because this is something that I struggle with in my daily and education life. I got into teaching to “help” people, just like the speaker in the Nepal story at the beginning. I found a niche in social justice education. After taking ECS110, I became very interested in the idea of unequal footing and how that has been downplayed in my education up until the point of university. I now value university for its critique of social systems that I didn’t think to even take a closer look at because I now realize that as a white middle-class woman, I was valued and not oppressed. I was protected by the system in many ways (we can unpack the oppression of women another time – for my purposes here I was a very sheltered child of the system).

Kumashiro unpacks the term “common sense” as often being traditional practices or ideals. This is done through comparing the U.S. School system to a school experience in Nepal through the narrative of a volunteer whose teaching methods do not confine to the U.S. common sense way of teaching and knowing. The students even encourage this teacher to teach as the Nepali teachers do: through lecture-practice-exams. It becomes clear to this teacher that the U.S. method is a huge influence on the rest of the world. The Nepali teaching method mimics that of the U.S. method of years previous and that this teacher was brought in to update the teaching style. It becomes apparent that the U.S. way is the “common sense” ideal of teaching and education and neglects to take into consideration many other cultures. The introduction to this book goes on to talk about how systems (like the education system) often are formed on the “common sense” opinion of certain (and often privileged) groups which leads these systems to be oppressive as they don’t take into consideration the ideas and traditions of minority or “othered” groups.

It’s extremely important to pay attention to the “common sense” traditions of any system because any system designed by humans or that seems natural to humans usually is formed on the opinion of the privileged.  These systems often leave minority groups with an unequal footing. Our institutions should be critiqued in my opinion and revised continually. As the article points out, this type of introspective and internal critique is an ongoing and never perfected process. Paying attention to this common sense helps others who are oppressed by these systems and institutions.

This is my tallest mountain in terms of education and the reason I have the strong urge to go out and buy this book. I feel as though I hit a wall on my own critique of these systems. I know that they are inherently flawed, biased and often oppressive but as a teacher I need to be able to show this. I need the facts that show the flaws in these systems and even better, I need the strategies to change my way of thinking and strategies to help make the systems better. I need help implementing these changes in my teaching. I understand that this is a critique and process that won’t end for me, but I’m so excited to help. I’m excited to be a social justice educator.

Teaching Toward Social Justice

As part of the readings for my Educational Core Studies 210 course, I will be reading Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice (2nd edition) by Kevin K. Kumashiro and The New Teacher Book: Finding Purpose, Balance, and Hope During Your First Years in the Classroom (2nd edition) edited by Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. The first reading that I will be reflecting on is from Against Common Sense.

In this text Kumashiro defines common sense as “the assumption that improvement comes when schools are put in competition with one another, like businesses in a so-called free market” (page 22). This assumption typically favours middle-to-upper class families because they are being offered choices of the best schools while low income families do not have these choices available due to the expense of travelling or the tuition needed to attend certain schools.

This “common sense” has been created and promoted by business and conservative forces in North America. While this education reform based on standards and testing may have started as a Conservative proposal, Liberals now shape their ideas based on these concepts that are now referred to as “common sense”. Although teachers may recognise that this system reinforces social hierarchies, they may fear going against standards due to the threat of school closure, teacher turnover, student non-promotion, and other repercussions. One of the ways to work around these standards is to teach students to search for gaps in the standards and attempt to see these standards from different perspectives.

Within schools, teachers need to find the balance between teaching standards and teaching students to think independently about the school system, the gaps that exist, and how they can better their educational experience. Part of the role of a teacher is to teach students specific mandated standards, but there must be more learning within the classroom environment in order to motivate students to rise above this mandated learning to find their own truths.

It is important that students and teachers pay attention to “common sense” because this thinking regarding education oppresses many students within the school system by reaffirming social hierarchy. While policies such as “No Child Left Behind” sound wonderful as proposals, many students suffer due to school closures and not having enough resources to engage in the education system and advocate for change. As future teachers, it is our role to speak for these students who are being systematically oppressed within the school system by teaching with social justice in mind.