common sense – noun – good sense and sound judgment in practical matters (Google)
“…commonsensical ideas are often what help us to make sense of and feel at ease with the things that get repeated in our everyday lives” (Kumashiro 2009).
This paper, written by Kumashiro, was an interesting one. It discussed Kumashiro’s own personal experience teaching in Nepal. He mentioned how different the culture and habits of the people were compared to the West, which is where he grew up. He believed it to be strange but didn’t necessarily argue or go against those practices (at least none mentioned in the paper). However, he goes on to describe how he taught at the schools there. Naturally, his style of teaching imitated what he observed from his own teachers in the USA. Most of those lessons were fun and easy for the students of Nepal, but they didn’t fully appreciate it. They thought he was teaching wrong. Kumashiro states: “My classes might have been “fun” and I might have been “nice,” but I was certainly not doing what teachers were supposed to be doing and that was a problem” (2009). Students naturally became anxious that he wasn’t paving out a successful path for them, and instead, forced them to choose the easier and “fun” route.
He goes on to explain how this was a form of oppression. Kumashiro wasn’t interested in what the Nepali kids valued and wanted to get from their education. Obviously, they wanted a more rigorous curriculum with lots of memorization and tests. They didn’t want to interact with one another or build a community. This is a form of colonialism, in some ways, because he’s forcing his own US/Western values and sees it as superior across all cultures and situations. He goes on to urge future teachers to be open to several ideas, and to make it build a more anti-oppressive community.
We tend to justify anti-oppression as “habits we do because they are common sense”. It’s commonsense that we study certain things in school, such as the World Wars, and not others, such as histories about the Indigenous peoples. This might make more sense because the World Wars impacted everyone around the world. Everyone should know about it, and Canada should not be an exception. We value certain things because it makes sense. It’s commonsense that we close school on Christmas but not on any other spiritual or religious holiday. It’s commonsense to start school after summer, and focus the four core subjects of social studies, English, math, and science (Kumashiro 2009). We should get rid of this excuse and learn adjust the curriculum so that it is inclusive.
Kumashiro has four steps that attempt to get rid of the “commonsense” idea. The steps are:
- make minority groups feel more comfortable and included.
- instruct and inform students about minority groups so they can be less ignorant.
- understanding that there are invisible forces that push society to believe certain things.
- understand why this topic is important.
Naturally, this topic is important and relevant to many teachers. This can also be part of the “hidden curriculum”. We model acceptable behavior to our students, so if we do not talk about this in a healthy manner or address issues that are already present, students end up believing the issue doesn’t exist, isn’t up for discussion, isn’t important, or can’t be discussed in a healthy, productive manner.
There were plenty of ideas that popped up into my head as I was reading this article. I, myself, am very passionate about social conditions and justice so I found myself with several ideas to ruminate over.
I resonated with Kumashiro when he said: “I assumed that these schools and people desperately needed our help” (2009). Many future teachers see their profession as somehow a noble calling, or an act of valour. Many teachers feel a sense of self-importance and pride by teaching the next generation and filling them with a sense of wonder. Many would go on to suggest that teachers are the foundation of society as a whole, as we are teaching the future doctors, firefighters, peace-advocates, environmentalists, historians, etc. I can see how Kumashiro thought that.
I also resonated in another way. The way he described the conditions of Nepal reminded me of the conditions of Pakistan, which is my home country. I have lived in Canada, the West, for almost my entire life. I went back when I was ten and was given quite a culture shock. Like Nepal, things weren’t always clean. It wasn’t quiet either. People didn’t eat a lot, but drank a lot of tea. One day, I decided I wanted to go to school with my cousin. She was two years older than me. However, she said I could come to school with her, and sit with her in class. She said the teacher didn’t mind. I walked to school with her, and she went into this little classroom. There were only girls in the class, and the teacher was also a woman. All the girls had modest uniforms that consisted of a dupputa head scarf. I sat down, and none of the girls seemed to mind that a random person walked in. They were curious because they hadn’t seen me around town, rather than around school. We sat on the floor, in a cluster, and the teacher had a prop-up board to write on. I vaguely remember introducing myself when the class day started. I remember how each student had a textbook, but everything they learned was very basic. They were learning about the five senses, and had to say it out in English. I was ten at the time, so I was wondering what they were doing learning something so simple so late in their lives. One student misbehaved, so the teacher closed her paper-back text book and slapped in on her head. This was how teacher punished, and it surprised me. The student smacked seemed unfazed, and no one else appeared shocked or surprised. The school day lasted only two or three hours, and we only learned the senses that day. Most girls tend to be absent in school, preferring to do chores at home than focus on academics.
I remember thinking that the schools in America were better. My teacher would never make hitting a norm. My teacher would want us to work in groups. My teacher would make sure we were on time everyday of the class. My education was taken seriously but it was also fun. However, Kumashiro’s article made me think back to that event in a new light. Most of us go to school for social purposes – to talk to our peers, to suffer math homework and complain about teachers together. In Pakistan, people are not disconnected. Again, Pakistan is loud. Family is everywhere. Your neighbours are your cousins and aunts or what have you. The “social/community” aspect of education, enforced through group work and discussion, is almost redundant and unnecessary. You’re sitting in a room filled with childhood friend, and you interact with the course content accidently on your recess break. It’s bound to come up when kids are bored.
However, someone might examine this style of learning and deem it sexist. Perhaps it is and perhaps it isn’t. I know that the boys had hard-cover books and were learning complicated math. They were also in school longer. More boys went on to complete a high school degree and pursue a university education than the girls. They did not leave school early to do the laundry or make dinner. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fulfil traditional female roles, though. They aren’t lesser than a traditionally masculine job. Being a house wife/husband is as difficult, with some variation, as an accountant. However, I wonder if students should have still been offered math and history and language courses. The greatest literary genius or someone with the mind to cure cancer could have been sitting in the room with me, talking about the weather or clothes or some other topic. Maybe not having some silence in the day, some disconnect to society, was detrimental to their health. I’m connecting this idea to Virgina Woolf’s novel, A Room of One’s Own. She mentions that people need silence, and space, to think things over. The art of writing fiction and poetry requires an amount of mental strength and concentration. If it is constantly disturbed, the next literary genius will see writing and reading as futile and abandon their poems and books.
Kumashiro’s “fun” style of learning is also oppressive in other ways. It assumes students are naturally “happy-go-lucky” or might need to be coerced into learning. Creativity is often dampened by stress. When students stress over grades or tests, the teacher’s easy courses can rub the wrong way. It might appear that the teacher doesn’t care about their education. The student is thinking, “This is so hard! Why are we doing group projects? Why doesn’t the teacher feel the stress? Doesn’t she/he know this is important to me? What is she/he putting on the test? Why doesn’t she/he want me to succeed?” They might end up antagonizing the teacher, since their lessons appear to be frivolous and distracting. It’s all fun and games until the tests arrives and you don’t know half the stuff on the test because you didn’t study the way your normally did because you didn’t know how because of how differently the teacher taught the unit. Students find this frustrating. For Kumashiro, attempting to change the education system is equal to attempting to change their entire social system and history and their commonsense. Education is linked to years of culture, and that must be undone for you to shift the education model. To westernize the Nepali education system, you must westernize Nepal, and that is colonialism.
At the end of the day, we all want to avoid oppressing others. Kumashiro mentions how oppression seeks to avoid harming people at its core when he says “… harm can result from discrimination” (2019). Naturally, as human beings, we want to help one another and survive as a species. If we destroy others’ cultures and oppress them, we lose the fundamental joy of being a human as well as the joy of learning about one another as we journey through our lives. We find meaning in ourselves through the company of others, and being culturally aware and sensitive helps in that endeavor.