Avoiding Institutionalized Truth – Active Education and the Battle Against Oppression

For ECS 210, after reading the Introduction to Kevin Kumashiro’s Against Common Sense, I was asked to respond to the following prompt:

How does Kumashiro define ‘commonsense’. Why is it so important to pay attention to the                ‘common sense’?

In his Introduction, Kumashiro takes a critical look at “common sense” and imparts deeper meaning on both words:

Sense

In “common sense” the sense, or the knowledge, is not rooted in research, nor is it objectively true. The sense is also not necessarily written down, nor directly communicated. In fact, peoples’ common sense is very similar to their physical senses – you can catch a sniff of an odour on the wind, or you can taste a thunderstorm in the air. Your common “sense” allows you to detect the standard practices surrounding you. The collective knowledge of common sense is not a vetted list of facts, but rather, historically, the way things have been done. Sense is an institutionalized practice.

Common

The common in “common sense” does not imply all people know it. In fact, there’s an adage (itself an oft-quoted piece of “common sense”) that explicitly says so – “common sense is not so common.” The common in “common sense” does not mean it’s an inherently known fact; rather, it means that the particular piece of institutionalized practice (the piece of “sense”) is pervasive in a certain region. The regionality of common sense is significant for Kumashiro – the common sense of Nepal is not “common” in America.

Common Sense

Thus, for Kumashiro, common sense is not “the obvious, correct thing to do” but rather “the culturally determined practices that have existed historically and so continue to be followed unquestioningly.” The defence of educational practices for the sake of their being “common sense” is a huge problem for Kumashiro. Whether the practices are overtly supported or subconsciously accepted, defending ideas as common sense leads to the oppression of students. As he says on page XXXV, “The norms of schooling, like the norms of society, privilege and benefit some groups and identities while marginalizing and subordinating others on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, language, age, and other social markers.” To be anti-oppressive educators, and to use education as a liberating force, we must pay attention to those things considered “common sense,” review them critically, and proceed with them if, and only if, they stand up to objective scrutiny. A passive approach to common sense instruction is to be an oppressive educator. We must actively fight oppression to be anti-oppressive.

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