Discussing Teacher Education with Kumashiro

This blog post is less about how the University of Regina envisions teacher education, and more about my thoughts on Kumashiro. He does a good job of setting up each image of a “good” teacher, and then complicating them, or tearing them down as not good enough. I’ll address each type.

Learned Practitioners

First you learn about students, then you learn your subject, then you learn how to teach. Then you teach.

Learn is a tough word. It has strong connotations. In particular, it suggests that there is a body of knowledge to be learned, and that it can all be absorbed – thus you have learned it. This is problematic. It’s easiest to see this problem in the first example given by Kumashiro, of learning who young students are. To suggest that students are a well defined group of people, with knowable rules, who can be understood in their entirety is problematic – it’s practically the definition of prejudice. The same logic can be applied to both subjects and teaching. To consider either as compartmentalized units that can be picked up and understood as complete objects is gross simplification.

Kumashiro is very meta-analytical in his labelling of oppression. He does not give a lot of specific examples. I think Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle works as an analogy to describe knowledge. The principle states that the more you know about the location of a particle, the less you can know about its momentum. The more you know about its momentum, the less you can know about its precise location. Similarly, the more you know individual students, the less you can generalize about young students; the more you know about young students, the less you can see the individuals in your classroom. Perhaps that’s why Kumashiro doesn’t give examples. The more you know about oppression in school, the less you can know specific examples of oppression. The more specific examples of oppression you give, the less clearly you can see the overall systematic oppression.

Researchers

His critique here is extremely meta. We learn. We learn to teach. Teaching methods are driven by research. But that’s not enough for Kumashiro. We also have to question the research that already exists. We need to do our own research into how to teach better. We also have to doubt the new research that we’ve completed. Further, we have to challenge our readers to doubt the research we’re presenting. Further, all of this is prescription from Kevin Kumashiro, and it too must be questioned and doubted. Interestingly, he never says this last bit directly. He knows how to sell a book. Still, very meta, and a valid point from which to argue.

Professionals

We are never Anti-Oppressive. We can, at best, be in a state of becoming anti-oppressive. That is a philosophical notion. Verbs are okay, nouns are not. He even goes so far as to call anti-oppressive teaching an ideal we strive for but cannot achieve. This mirrors the language of Plato, who talks about constantly striving for the world of forms, which we cannot reach. Similarly, Kumashiro argues that the teaching profession must not be set in stone; it must remain dynamic to fight oppression.

Kumashiro’s Platonism is challenged because he has written it down. Once something is written, it becomes fixed. Thus his descriptions will necessarily be static, and may even become oppressive over time. That’s why he gives so few examples, and encourages readers to think for themselves. He has faith in continuous rationality as a remedy for oppression.

University of Regina

UR in some measure prepares teachers in all three of these traditional, unsatisfactory categories. Students are expected to be professionals, upholding the Code of Professional Ethics as mandated by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. They are expected to complete research into teaching methods, think critically about written resources, and make informed decisions. They’re also expected to learn psychology, learn their subject areas, and learn instructional methods. All exactly as Kumashiro described, perfectly fitting into his oppressive descriptions.

The biggest saving grace that I’ve noticed (from Kumashiro’s perspective) for UR is the lack of mandating knowledge. Professors have invariably presented ideas and knowledge as partial pictures that I can absorb, take from, and use to inform my own practice. While they offer better practices, they do not consider them perfected and set in stone. Always it’s a matter of taking ideas, examining and discussing, incorporating and adapting, trialling and discarding, and moving forward with continuous improvement. Mistakes are not frowned upon, and I’m not told specifically how to do better. Potential issues are pointed out, and I’m required to make my own goals based on facts that are presented without judgement. These principles support the constant revision of teaching practices for which Kumashiro argues. I think the faculty of UR’s education program have read his book, and as a student I’m very thankful for that.

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