This blog post is a continuation of my last post entitled “Sick and Tired of Your College Professor Lecturing At You Everyday? Postformal Psychology May Just Be The Answer To Your Woes.”
We begin with the psychological theory that, if implemented, promises to take all levels of our educational system far beyond their current boundaries. Postformal educational psychology begins with the fundamental premise that the definition of intelligence needs to be democratized. What does this mean? It means that we have to stop thinking of intelligence as something that is fixed and innate, immovable and inborn-in other words one size fits all and if you don’t fit than too bad for you. We have to remove ourselves from this fatalistic mode of thinking which dictates that some kids just can’t learn and are doomed to fail in school no matter what. As prospective teachers, we have to avoid saying “I did all I can, and now I just can’t do anymore.” We must not only willing be but able to critically interrogate our own teaching practice, to constantly be rethinking and altering our own pedagogies with respect to the needs of our students, and resist falling into the trap of labeling some of our students as less than intelligent. To say that intelligence needs to be democratized is to say that no one is less than intelligent and that intelligence is indeed learnable.
If you think this an overly idealistic notion consider this, do you think that Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers would have been able to connect with her students via lectures, worksheets, and didactic instruction . Absolutely not!! They would have tuned her out in second. But does that mean we automatically label them as stupid and unable to learn like these two were so quick to do? Again, absolutely not!! In fact, the success of Hilary Swank’s unorthodox teaching methods leads us to the first key aspect of the mission to democratize intelligence. That is the necessity for the teacher to appreciate that all knowledge is contextualized. What does this mean? It means that knowledge can never stand alone. Knowledge becomes meaningless as long as it is abstracted from the context in which it was formed. Recall one of the early scenes in the movie in which Hilary Swank is trying to teach her students grammar and Eva responds by saying “You got us in here teaching us this grammar shit, and then we gotta go out there and what are you telling me about that, huh? What are you doing in here that makes a god damn difference to my life?” Post-formal teachers recognize the necessity of connecting their student’s lived experience to the content at hand which is exactly what Hilary Swank learned that she had to do. If she didn’t understand that all knowledge is contextualized, she would have chosen Shakespeare as the class reading material. She wouldn’t have been able to recognize and subsequently take advantage of the connection between the troubled lives of her students and the horrors of the Holocaust. If she was a social studies teacher, she would have taught the Holocaust as a fixed body of knowledge…facts, dates, people, events and place for her students to memorize and spit back to her on a multiple-choice test.
If teaching for democracy is going to be your goal, then teaching and assessing for pure memorization just will not cut it. In order for a democracy to work properly the citizenry must be active and informed, able to analyze and think through important issues and then fight for what they believe is right and just, as opposed to just taking for granted what is usually spin and insidious propaganda coming out of the dominant cultural institutions of power. A democracy without an informed citizenry, without knowledge of social justice and the courage to stand up to injustice, leaves its people open to exploitation by the rich, powerful, and purposefully ignorant who only seek to advance their own self-interest at the expense of the rest of us. Historical Analysis is also very important. Using the past to analyze the present and potential future is an important part of this educative process. Students become historical researchers and researchers of themselves as they recognize how their lives are lived and their subjectivities are formed within various sociohistorical and sociocultural contexts. They are able to consider new ways of thinking, new ways of analyzing the world and their place in it. Most importantly, students gain that sense of critical agency which allows them to resist oppression and imagine betters ways of life for themselves and their fellow citizens.
This type of critical thinking cannot take place unless the teacher understands that he or she is a“mediator” of knowledge not a “giver”, Swank provides her students with the tools necessary to construct their own knowledge and feel empowered both inside and outside the classroom. In the words of great Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, “Within this problem-posing method, the students—no longer docile listeners—are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge at the level of the logos.” Now what do these two words mean? Freire’s explanation of the difference between “doxa” knowledge and “logos” knowledge leads perfectly into an explanation of the second and third key features of democratizing intelligence, those are Etymology and Pattern.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary edition. New York City: 1970. Print.
Kincheloe, Joe, and Shirley Steinberg. Students As Researchers: Creating Classrooms That Matter. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, 1998. 9. eBook.