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Liberation Praxis in Schools: Teaching for Social Justice. By Paul C. Gorski White Privilege Conference April 2008. Introduction: Warm-Up. The Awareness Quiz. Intro: Who We Are. Who is in the room? My background and lenses. Intro: Agenda. Introductory Blabber (in progress)

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Liberation Praxis in Schools: Teaching for Social Justice


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    1. Liberation Praxis in Schools: Teaching for Social Justice By Paul C. Gorski White Privilege Conference April 2008

    2. Introduction: Warm-Up The Awareness Quiz

    3. Intro: Who We Are • Who is in the room? • My background and lenses

    4. Intro: Agenda • Introductory Blabber (in progress) • Starting Assumptions • Approaches to Social Justice Education • Key Concepts • Pitfalls: The Withering Away of Critical Liberation Praxis

    5. Intro: Agenda Cont’d 6. Dimensions of Praxis in Schools 7. Social Justice Education in Practice 8. Shifts of Consciousness for the Critical Practitioner

    6. Introduction: Primary Arguments • Social justice education starts with creating equitable learning environments for all students • SJE also includes preparing students for the struggle • Critical liberation praxis involves shifts of consciousness that inform shifts in practice

    7. Introduction: Primary Arguments 4. Much of the work we call “SJE” creates more inequity than it eliminates 5. There is something we can do about it

    8. Introduction: Warning!!! I do not have any of the following: • “The” SJE formula or workbook, • A tidy set of activities for you to implement in your classroom tomorrow, or • A single book or poster or video that will make any school “just.”

    9. Introduction: However… I do have all of the following: • A framework for thinking complexly and critically about praxis and SJE, • Strategies for creating just learning environments based on your curricular and pedagogical expertise, and • Some difficult, sometimes even uncomfortable, questions about what is and what could be in education.

    10. Starting Assumptions

    11. Starting Assumption #1 • All students deserve the best possible education regardless of: • Socioeconomic status or class • Gender Identity • Religion (or lack thereof) • Citizenship status • (Dis)ability • Race or ethnicity • Sexual Orientation • Etc.

    12. Starting Assumption #2 • Critical liberation praxis requires more than simply diversifying curricula; it requires the transformation of • Pedagogy • Assessment • Classroom/School Climate • National Social and Educational Policy • Etc.

    13. Starting Assumption #3 • Education is NOT politically neutral • And political neutrality is the same thing is supporting the status quo • First step for all of us: understand the politics in play (that’s the “critical”) and what they mean for us and our students.

    14. Starting Assumption #4 • The problem of educational inequity is one of consciousness, not only one of practice • Impossibility of being a critical liberation practitioner if I do not think in critical, liberatory ways

    15. Starting Assumption #5 • The “achievement gap” is not as much an “achievement gap” as an “opportunity gap”

    16. Starting Assumption #6 • A single teacher or administrator cannot undo systemic inequities in the entire school system or larger society. • But at the very least we can make sure we’re not replicating those inequities in our own spheres of influence

    17. Starting Assumption #7 • Education is a microcosm of bigger social conditions, and those conditions are increasingly neoliberal • Welfare “reform” • Globalization (of poverty) • Concentration of media ownership • What else?

    18. Starting Assumption #8 • These conditions increasingly are embedded in education policy and practice • Corporatization and privatization of public schools • NCLB and the Business Roundtable • “Choice” and vouchers • Prescribed curricula • What else?

    19. Starting Assumption #9 • Gross inequities exist in our schools • And these inequities, and the resulting opportunity gap, will not be eliminated by Taco Night, the International Fair, or other activities that, however fun, do not address injustices head-on

    20. Starting Assumption #9: Gross Inequities Compared with low-poverty U.S. schools, high-poverty U.S. schools have: • More teachers teaching in areas outside their certification subjects; • More serious teacher turnover problems; • More teacher vacancies; • Larger numbers of substitute teachers;

    21. Starting Assumption #9: Gross Inequities (cont’d) • More dirty or inoperative bathrooms; • More evidence of vermin such as cockroaches and rats; • Insufficient classroom materials • Less rigorous curricula; • Fewer experienced teachers; • Lower teacher salaries; • Larger class sizes; and • Less funding.

    22. Starting Assumption #9: Gross Inequities Barton, P.E. (2004). Why does the gap persist? Educational Leadership 62(3), 8-13. Barton, P.E. (2003). Parsing the achievement gap: Baselines for tracking progress. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Carey, K. (2005). The funding gap 2004: Many states still shortchange low-income and minority students. Washington, D.C.: The Education Trust. National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2004). Fifty years after Brown Board of Education: A two-tiered education system. Washington, D.C.: Author. Rank, M.R. (2004). One nation, underprivileged: Why American poverty affects us all. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    23. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE

    24. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Important Concepts • Hegemony • The Hidden Curriculum • Deficit Theory • Neoliberalism

    25. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Important Concept #1 Hegemony • What is it? • Where do we see it? • White supremacy, Christian-centrism, consumer culture, hetero-normativity – connections among these

    26. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Important Concept #2 The Hidden Curriculum • What is it? • Relationship with hegemony • Three curricula: Official, Explicit, Hidden

    27. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Important Concept #3 Deficit Theory • What is it? • Example: Hurricane Katrina • Relationship with hegemony

    28. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Important Concept #4 Neoliberalism • What is it? (see handout) • Where do we see it in schools? • Relationship with hegemony

    29. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approaches to SJE • Heroes and Holidays • Intercultural Education • Human Relations Education • Reactive Equity Programming • Systemic Equity a. Where is your school or department?

    30. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approach: Heroes and Holidays • Celebrating diversity • Surface-level cultural exploration • Additive; tokenistic • Examples?

    31. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approach: Intercultural Education • Learning about “other” cultures • Essentializing (“culture of poverty”) • Focus on tolerance and appreciate of difference • Examples?

    32. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approach: Human Relations • Intergroup/intercultural dialogue • Sharing our personal stories • Anti-bias focus • Interpersonal, missing bigger issues • Examples?

    33. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approach: Reactive Programming • Connections with bigger issues • But reactive, not proactive • Program-based, not transformational • Examples?

    34. Conceptualizing Authentic SJE Approach: Critical Liberation • Understand education in larger sociopolitical context • Focus on system equity and social justice – consciousness informs practice • Examples?

    35. PITFALLS: Withering of SJE, or Un-Critical Liberatory Praxis

    36. Withering SJE:Changing Hearts, Not Systems • Focus exclusively on changing hearts and minds while ignoring systemic issues (this is the un-critical praxis) • How does this approach—anti-bias, tolerance, etc.—serve hegemony? Who does it serve and who does it protect? • Examples: anti-bias workshops, cultural plunges, etc.

    37. Withering SJE:Equity Issues—Cultural Solutions • Trying to address injustices, such as racial or class inequity, with cultural programming, such as multicultural festivals or learning about the “culture of poverty” • Who or what does this approach protect?

    38. Withering SJE:Whitening of Education Activism • Candy-coating the discourse to be consumable to privileged audiences; pacing classes or workshops for the most resistant participants • “Change takes time,” “Start where they are,” fear of causing discomfort

    39. Withering SJE:Ruby Payne Syndrome • Latching onto ideas and models of hot new voices without critical analysis of their work • Professional development focused more on entertainment value than educational value • Use of resources that contribute to stereotypes and deficit perspective • Examples: Payne, PLCs

    40. Withering SJE:Regressive Programming • Minimizing social justice to co- or extra-curricular programming; ignoring policy, systems, and structures • Student clubs • Service learning that maintains social and political hierarchies • Dances, food fairs, cultural plunges, arts and crafts

    41. Dimensions of Equitable Education

    42. Dimensions of Equitable Education Adapted from the work of Maurianne Adams and Barbara J. Love (2006).

    43. Dimensions of Equitable Education 1. What Students Bring to the Classroom • Past educational experiences (it’s not always all about us) • Complex identities, socializations • Expectations about the roles of students and teachers • Varying learning styles, intelligences, ways of illustrating learning

    44. Dimensions of Equitable Education 2. What We Bring to the Classroom • Complex socializations, identities, biases, • Notions about the purposes of education and our roles as teachers • A teaching style, often related to our own preferred learning styles and how we’ve been taught

    45. Dimensions of Equitable Education 3. Curriculum Content • Course materials: Who’s represented in readings, examples, illustrations • Perspective and worldview: Whose voices are centered, whose are “other”ed • Is content relevant to the lives of the students? • What is the “hidden curriculum”? • Are social justices issues addressed explicitly?

    46. Dimensions of Equitable Education 4. Pedagogy • Focus on critical thinking • Paying attention to inequity in classroom processes • Attending to sociopolitical relationships (power and privilege) and hegemony in the classroom • Acknowledging student knowledge through problem-posing, dialogue, and general student-centeredness • Using authentic assessment

    47. Student Outcomes and Critical Praxis

    48. Student Outcomes Clarifications • We can work toward these outcomes in individual classes, but usually they’re reachable only through systemic reform. So the question for all of us is, How can I within my context contribute to moving students toward these outcomes? • Because SJE is as much about unlearning as about learning, it’s a process, not an immediate transformation.

    49. Student Outcomes Outcome #1 Students will think critically, particularly about those things about which they’ve been taught previously not to think critically. Examples: Consumer culture, US foreign policy, compulsory schooling

    50. Student Outcomes Outcome #2 Students will have considered their own biases and prejudices, worked to understand where those biases and prejudices come from (hegemony), and identified strategies for continued reflective learning. Examples: Racism, sexism, US-centrism