Friday, April 15, 2011

The many are one and are increased by the one.

In my last post I wrote:
The longer I teach, I began in 1999, the more I become a student advocate, the more I see my role in the school and classroom as vertically integrated with role my students perform. The more I see our role in direct opposition, in a healthy and productive manner rather than destructive, to the administration and state. Being a student advocate permits me to be an advocate for teachers.
(Updated on April 16: Beginnings of an essay I'm writing about producing space in classrooms. I'm trying to figure out how to address my concern with space and horizontal and vertical just don't cut it. The two words are shitty training wheels for me to get my thoughts straight as i try to find a better vocabulary. One-dimensional v. multi-dimensional and horizontal v. vertical aren't the best way to put it, but it'll do for now. Maybe i need to think about words like transversal. Your suggestions, input are always welcome. Love dialogue. Also want to note i'm using a Whiteheadean concept, the many become one and are increased by that one. I didn't write that. I'm citing it, implementing it.)

I'm going to go with the flow of thought here and see what I can get out of it, so I can see what I think about the ideas implicit in my statement. I'm not sure vertically integrated is the best way to put it. I'm trying to argue that classrooms are spaces typically, uncritically and horizontally constructed to reinforce and passively instruct traditional power structures. Most of us would likely agree with this. Only an authoritarian would take issue so soon.

I believe teachers have the ability to dis-include--in this case, I like dis-include more than exclude--and disrupt traditional, passively accepted power structures by teaching in media res so to speak. Simply describing a teacher stepping from the front of the classroom into the middle of it may seem trite but to accomplish such a small step first requires many more complex rhetorical moves than may not be apparent. Many theorists have discussed what it means to teach in media res. It's not a new idea. So, I'll leave the groundwork alone at the moment.

Rejecting traditional, horizontal hierarchies in the classroom in favor of a vertical framework permits active critical thinking, promotes a tolerance for social difference, insists that conflict can be resolved peacefully, and instructs students and teachers that there is more to cooperation in our society than the future cooperation between employee and employer, boss and worker, master and slave. In addition, it allows for the cultivation of a multi-dimensional classroom.

The traditional classroom is one-dimensional. It occupies a particular space in time and insists that it stays put statically reinforcing an important power structure for future members of the workforce, of consumer culture. It becomes a voice in the unconscious, dogmatically instructing citizens how to behave. Students can look back to their notes only to point to what they learned because the traditional, horizontal structure is not dynamic. It's remembered, stored away, celebrated on anniversaries, nostalgic, lifeless.
I'm trying to get at intention. The horizontally-constructed space of traditional classrooms promotes the worst aspects of rugged individualism in our culture. Traditional classrooms are populated with students and teachers who are permitted to possess their own intentions, goals, objectives, and points-of-view only in so far as their claims are articulated within their appropriate positions within the hierarchy. For example, a student can disagree with her teacher as long as she agrees to obey the teacher. (Two things about this need to be developed further: the agreement to obey is silent and conversation about it is generally not permitted; students are taught that they are free to participate (see freedom of contract and employment at will) and that they can have opinions, but they must decide to choose the authorized correct answers exams. Both of these things are considered good cooperation.)

Traditional classrooms construct and model social space that prohibits critical thinking from successfully working. Traditional classrooms conduct discourse that insists dynamic rhetoric exist in static positions. We really do dis-empower the radical potential for public discourse and habituate participants to embrace self-interest as an interest that knows its proper place. Moreover, a student who competes for the highest position must also be willing to dispossess classmates. Self-interest as an interest that knows its proper place is a grotesque representation of the democratic ideal that the many become one and are increased by that one.

This is why selfish and static ideological and political positions represented by libertarianism are so popular with young people. Libertarianism is the unapologetic acceptance of self-interest for benefit of an individual in competition with everyone else and companion to none. For no rational reason, we teach students that this is in everyone's best interest. We instruct students to become individuals in spite of their communities rather than individuals that produce their communities. Community is represented as a burden. We teach that John Galt is a heroic individual rather than the reality about his static, lifeless, dreadful existence as a sycophant to the wealthy elite.

In traditional classrooms, teachers insist that a community is only as strong as its weakest link. Teachers and students together work to create value for their classroom, as the best communities can make more money, can learn more, can enrich themselves. (See Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and Race to the Top.) The traditional classroom passively models the market in such a way that knowledge and experience become much less important than a good work ethic no matter what the task. In this way, the traditional classroom produces a society of slaves to the authority of an elite class.

If we reject, even silently reject, the traditional classroom and produce a vertically integrated space in which to conduct lessons, we can provide classrooms wherein multiple intentions can conflict and daily discourse permits original social difference yet requires grand attempts to reach a healthier consensus. This is the fulfillment of the many become one and are increased by that one.

I suppose the key to what I'm thinking about here is that by teaching in media res--refusing to (re)produce a horizontal space that promotes status-seeking behavior and refusing to play master to a student's slave--we can actively destroy the worst aspects of capitalist culture, combat Empire without aggressively politicizing the classroom, encourage students to understand that thinking for themselves doesn't mean competing with other self-interests, fully recognize a healthy consensus in a society that embraces original social difference, and empower students to be strong, confident, critically-minded individuals because they're confident that we're all working together for different ends with similar means towards a common cause.

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