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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

72] But What is "Teaching"?

But what is teaching?
Azly Rahman
May 15, 06 4:33pm

This piece is dedicated to all my teachers and your teachers on the occasion of World Teachers Day. Good teachers are great revolutionaries..

I begin with words of the British rock musician Roger Waters:

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave the kids alone
Hey teacher leave us kids alone
All in all it's just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in the wall

- from Pink Floyd’s ‘Brick in the Wall’

“If you can’t do, teach!” the great playwright George Bernard Shaw once said. That was not a nice thing to say to teachers. But why not this maxim: “If you must teach, get them to revolt!” You are given those bright and enquiring young mind to develop into geniuses. You are in a position of power. With you lies the ability to teach others the transformative powers of teaching. It is time to honor the enterprise called teaching, the most revered profession in the history of Humanity. At each stage our life we are either teaching or being taught. But what is teaching?

"What is schooling?"

Teaching, as the thinker Anatole France said, is a subversive act. It must not only inform and remind but also must excite, agitate, and ignite the fire within. It must create troubled minds and leave students with more questions and some answers. It is not a funneling process; it is not a banking concept. It is a romantic act of flowering and transforming. It is a cybernetic act of creating beautiful patterns of thinking in each and every curious mind that we are entrusted to help liberate.

If you can teach, subvert. Turn your students into subversives; ones who will challenge authority and ignite revolutions. Help them revolt against conventional wisdom. Let them question scientific facts. Let them also question historical facts because there are none. Let the children grow into intellectually radical beings who would will refuse to be turned into human cattle that know only how to graze in wastelands cultivated by the modern corporatist states. Let them become radical humanists who will throw the greedy ones out of power.

The world we live in is too damaging to the human mind. It makes us docile. It makes us “dreadful” as the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would say. It creates this mental chronic fatigue syndrome in us with information overload but not enough of it being processed. The mind cannot reflect because the conditions for reflective moments are not created. We are, as many an information theorist would say, drowned in information and starved for knowledge. Governments find it useful to have unthinking citizens. It is easier to control good workers than to control good thinking citizens.

In Malaysian public universities, we have courses in ‘thinking skills’ but we still conduct witch-hunts. In our public schools, we say we infuse critical and creative thinking skills in our curriculum, but we still produce students who think that rote-memorisation is the best form of learning. Our government wants its citizens to become ‘towering’ people but we have oppressive measures to silent dissenting views.

Teachers need to understand what is mentally ailing this nation. The recent fiasco in Parliament concerning former Backbenchers Club chairperson Shahrir Abdul Samad is a testament of the critical stage of the illness we are in. When one man stood up for justice and his entire political clan revolted against him, we have a classic example of what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called ‘hegemony’. What is the use of one being schooled if in the long run the agenda is to be engineered as beings who would create and propagate structures of oppression such as militarism, structural violence, state-sponsored terrorism, engines of mass destruction and instruments of the perpetuation of Space Age imperialism?

"Abuse of schooling"

We must embrace the idea of teaching for understanding, much popularised by Howard Gardner. There is so much failure in our schools as a result of teaching strategies that do not meet the needs of curious young minds. Teachers are not equipped to meet the mental demand of the ‘multi-tasking multidimensional, multimediated child’ who lives in a millennium that is different from the past.

Do we understand this ‘Millennium Generation’?

We fail these children if they cannot achieve anything but regurgitate the facts we want them to memorise. We get angry when they get bored. We punish them for not wanting to learn. We then call in the police if we feel threatened by the worst of the worst of the failures. The Malaysian minster of education will now need metal detectors in all of our urban schools. He will need to have the Malaysian police permanently stationed in the low-performing ones.

We will have replicas of gangsta-infested American schools such those in East Los Angeles, Detroit, South Bronx, New York, and Paterson and New Jersey where gangs rule the classrooms and middle-school children get recruited to become ‘crack cocaine’ dealers. But do these children want to become failures? Or are teachers and parents, too, at fault? Who will be threatened if our society develops into a Paris that burned a few years ago? We live perhaps in an Orwellian society wherein realities are invented and packaged out of an industrialised culture and schooling has become a powerful instrument of social reproduction rationalised in the language of utilitarianism, technological determinism and liberalism.

With apologies to Albert Camus, ‘one must imagine our human race happy, as we roll the rock up the hill of mass deception’ after having been condemned by the God of Economic Productivity or the Goddess of Surplus and Plenty!

In the words of Roger Waters of the British rock group Pink Floyd, “… all and all we’re just another brick in the wall”.

Teaching is a verb and not a noun. It is an active process in which the teacher, as Socrates would preach, is a ‘midwife’ whose role is to help the child deliver the best that his/her potential has to offer. This dialogue must be continued so that we, as teachers, become closer to becoming a ‘verb’ than continue to exist as ‘nouns’ unaware of what ‘adjectives’ are used to describe us or how we use them to describe ourselves. There is so much to do in the area of 'thinking skills' that we could have better achieved.

It seems that we have a major wave of regression as a consequence of policies and pedagogy. But education is about hope and liberation if we just care to engage in an internal critique of the system itself and the way our children and youth are being taught.

Philosophers of education like Rousseau, Froebel, Montessori, Dewey, Freire, Apple, Giroux, and McLaren have all been saying the same thing and that is about the need to engage in critical reflection at every stage of the educational process. We have become a nation of testing and measurement and we have never quite developed in our children the need to challenge and ask questions.

"Learn from Pink Floyd"

But there is hope, as the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would advise us educators. It requires a systematic radicalisation of the enterprise of teaching itself. We need to create teachers who are radical enough to go in each and every classroom, armed with a powerful philosophy of teaching and human liberation, and challenge our children even at as an early age as pre- kindergarten. What we see now in our universities is a culture of one-dimensionality, homogenisation and a more sophisticated ‘spoon-feeding-ism’ that is a necessary pre-condition for state-sponsored totalitarianism.

We can change all these - through a radical programme of graduate teacher education at the level of graduate schools of education.

What is our curriculum for teacher education like? How politicised is it? How do we infuse at every level, critical thinking strategies so that we will produce a nation of questioning individuals that pay allegiance not to any government of the day but to ethics and intellectual pursuit without fear or favor? What is the culture of our classrooms like these days? Are we busy disciplining children, correcting behavior or developing their intellectual capabilities so that the genius in each and every one of them will be fully realised? When do we truly educate if we still spend time upholding the virtues of a police state?

Teachers, you are most honoured if you can play your role well - one who inspires revolutions. But first, as Nietzsche would say, teachers must be taught how to think.

Teachers, didn’t we help fight revolutions and regain independence - before the nation was taken over by greedy technocrats and investment bankers?

Ultimately we do not want to create individuals who would, in the words of Pink Floyd, sing these words:

I don't need no arms around me
I don't need no drugs to calm me
I have seen the writing on the wall
Don't think I need anything at all
No don't think I'll need anything at all
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall
All in all you were just bricks in the wall

- from Roger Waters, Pink Floyds’ ‘Brick in the Wall Part 3’


To my teachers - I thank you all. Selamat Hari Guru!

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