Today I gave a presentation on postformal psychology and critical thinking for my educational psychology course. It was a long presentation, nearly 30 minutes, but even though the recommended time was 10-15 min, I didn’t make it so long for the grade. As you can expect , most of the people in the class are prospective teachers and I felt that it was critically important to get the message of postformal psychology out there to get us teacher ed. students to really think about how our own educational experiences will influence our future practice. Postformal psychology is obviously much more extensive that what I present here, and I encourage all to go out and do further research on this amazing and awe-inspiring topic.
This is the script I used for my presentation. Since it is nearly 3,000 words long, I am going to share it with you in three separate blog posts.
If you’ve never watched the movie Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank or read the book, The Freedom Writers Diary, which the film is based on, I kindly suggest you do at least one of the two to understand this presentation in context.
Knowledge is power. A well-known phrase with the well-known implication that with knowledge and education your potential and abilities in life will increase dramatically. Now when I say potential, I’m not talking about money-making potential. In this scenario, we are talking about a far greater power. Power means something different, whose definition you will gradually come to understand as we go through this presentation. Now school is the institution where you supposedly “acquire” knowledge….its the place society has designated as the knowledge imparter, giver, transmitter, bestower….whatever you wanna call it. Now if knowledge is power and the school is the place where you “acquire” knowledge then it follows logically that school should be the place where the students, you and me….feel most powerful. Now I want you to think for a moment…think about the totality of your high school and college experience, your long careers as students. How many times have you strolled out of a classroom at the end of an hour and fifteen turned to your friend and said, “Man that class was so…empowering. Dude I can’t believe it, knowledge really is power.” Just as I suspected, none of you have ever had this feeling of being empowered by the knowledge you learn in school. With just one or two exceptions I can’t say that I have either. Honestly, how can we exercise power if we’re never given the opportunity to say a word, if we’re constantly given the impression that our opinions, our experiences don’t matter, if the only knowledge that matters is that which is held and privileged by our professors who lecture endlessly, droning on and on while we mindlessly copy down every little bit and detail we think we’ll need to know for some mid-term or final, or maybe not, maybe you aren’t writing any notes, perhaps you’re just sitting there like I do most days staring at the clock, twiddling your thumbs, reading a book or playing with your I-Phone, with the knowledge that everything your professor is saying is right there in the textbook and that going to class is just something you do just because…well because you have to. In either circumstance, it is fair to say that knowledge does not equal power, at least not under the current regime of traditional lecture-style teaching that dominates nearly all of our classes.
Our voices are silenced, our subjectivity, our individuality is ignored and rendered irrelevant, any capacity for critical thinking and the potential for knowledge to be liberating, emancipatory, and empowering is squashed under a regime of rote memorization and recall, superficial learning is the name of the game…as this photo so perfectly illustrates knowledge goes about as far as filling in A,B,C, or D on a scantron. After that, who the heck cares what social learning theory is? Who the heck cares how a bacteria infects a virus? Who the heck cares about the history of Communism or Capitalism? It was a great philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, who once said “A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth. Scraps of information” are worth something only if they are put to use, or at least “thrown into fresh combinations.” And yet I ask you what is school mostly about? Its about you the student, the trash can, and let’s call me the professor doing this…(throw crumpled paper in trash can). There, there’s your scrap of information…now go try and pass my test. The life cycle of a trash can is the perfect metaphor for what traditional lecture style teaching does to us. Knowledge goes in…stays a while…knowledge gets emptied out….new knowledge goes in…stays a while…new knowledge gets emptied out and the process just goes on and on and on…..until….until what…? A critical mass of people have the courage to stand up and say this process does not constitute affective teaching and this way of teaching does a huge disservice to our students from elementary school all the way to college and we should stop this….this unbelievable madness. I honestly do not know when that moment of mass realization will come, but hopefully with this presentation I will leave all of you with some ideas about why this madness needs to stop and how it can be stopped.