Critical Summary

“In a hyperdigitized, globalized twenty-first century context, it is ironic that, even as East-and-West, the global North-and-South get ever closer, evermore obviously interdependent, it seems to get harder and harder actually to cross borders and engage differences of culture, history, race, religion, and nation.”

Asher 1

I knew from the get-go that this article would make for an excellent critical summary. I feel like the effects of colonization are not fully understood as it could be.

Nina Asher’s article “Writing Home/Decolinizing Text(s)” draws in on aspects of feminist theory, as well as how Western society has adapted to living in a post-colonial world. Both of these aspects reflect harshly in the education system, so it is worth picking at. Asher makes the case that colonization is, in some forms, a masculine trait. I think it relates to toxic masculinity rather than masculinity overall (since some masculinities are healthy and well-adopted by males and females) but that is just my personal opinion. Asher writes her article in story-form as well, so it will be an easy and interesting read. I would rather read a story than a list of statistics, though the latter is often helpful.

The only problem I have with the article is that it was written in 2009. Obviously, attitudes towards colonialism has changed. More people have acknowledged it recently, and social justice is being more exercised. It would be interesting to compare Asher’s article with a more recent one to see how they compare and whether Asher’s ideas still hold true and to what degree. The article she writes has to do with southern U.S.A. I think it would be helpful to compare it to Canada, and see what might be different of similar between the two educational systems. In her article, she claims she worked with students who didn’t really know what the Vietnam War was. I knew from grade 8. Though we didn’t learn it in depth, we watched a documentary about in in our class. We understood how that impacted the ’70 anti-war activism, and how we (as a society) remain generally anti-war because of that. Perhaps the curriculum in the U.S.A is slightly more problematic than Canada’s, and might require more room for growth.

While writing a critical summary, I will have to limit my own opinion. I might find this difficult since I am well-aware of the effects of colonialism and how it shapes the curriculum before I even read the article. Nonetheless, I am still excited to summarize/synthesize the information in a way that makes sense. This is a topic I am invested and interested in, so this will be an exciting assignment.

Nina Asher (2009) Writing home/decolonizing text(s), Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30:1, 1-13, DOI: 10.1080/01596300802643033

Curriculum

“Education that prepares for life is one that prepares definitely and adequately for these specific activities” (1918: 42).

The Tyler rationale is the curriculum made in the assumption that all children are naturally equal in terms of intelligence and learning capabilities. Although this is problematic now, this view made a lot of sense to people back in the day.

Ways I Experienced It

He believed in what is the modern-day syllabus. He was intent on the idea that we can form a path for children to succeed. He relied heavily on the product of the lessons rather than the lessons themselves. A lesson was “good” if students did well on the test provided, which served as the product of the teacher’s lessons. I think many of us have experienced the Tyler rationale in our school years. I particularly see them in effect in math classes. Many of the questions were not adjusted to suit students capabilities in my school. We would all do the same twenty questions. We were also given many tests, and they would indicate whether we did a good job or not. It was also almost completely written into stone about how the course would be like. There were not adjustments to that. The teacher might jump around the units but they would do so it if suited them.

Major Limitations

There are many problems one can find in the Tyler rationale. It’s very strict in a sense that there it wasn’t necessarily expecting the curriculum to change over time. It might have made sense at that time to shape the curriculum like they did, but it doesn’t make much sense nowadays. There is, “…no social vision” ( Smith 3) and was built in the assumption that, “…behavior can be objectively, mechanically measured” (Smith 5). It matched a behaviourist image of how people learn, that one could objectively control how they behaved and learned. Nowadays, I find that many teachers take a more of a humanistic approach rather than the behaviorist approach.

Benefits

There were some positives in the rationale. It created what I recognize to be the current way of structuring lesson plans. He mentions a seven step plan which includes diagnosing what students need, organizing content, and organizing them. We do this with the current Saskatchewan curriculum – we have objectives and indicators, choose the content, and organize it into units and individual lessons. The rationale was also shaped to prepare students for the workforce at the time. Smith says, “…[there was] detailed attention to what people needed to know in order to work, live their lives” (3). For example, students sit in rows to match how people sat in factories because they assumed that’s where they would choose to work and would prepare them for it. However, this leads back to a main problems of applying the rationale today. The workforce does not need factory workers, as they have been replaced by machines. Instead, we need children who can innovate and think critically. A humanist approach can solve this, rather than a behaviourist. The workforce demands for children to think creatively, not conform. Indeed, Western society as a whole has decided that conformity was not always useful since it would mean conforming to a society that was inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. In some ways, we can still apply it. For example, teaching kids Practical and Applied Arts or putting a focus on Workplace and Apprenticeship subjects would help “live their lives”. They are practical subjects that teach children how the world around them works and would overall help them become more self-reliant adults. Again, the idea is good but the way Tyler applied it is outdated.

In general, I would largely agree that viewing the curriculum as a process is far more productive, in an ironic way. It doesn’t suit the demands of the society we live in today. We are spiraling into an era of technology and innovation. Also, with the rise of environmental problems like climate change, the future of the world rests squarely on the assumption that today’s children are creative but critical thinkers.

Commonsense

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).

Summary

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:

  1. make minority groups feel more comfortable and included.
  2. instruct and inform students about minority groups so they can be less ignorant.
  3. understanding that there are invisible forces that push society to believe certain things.
  4. 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.

My Take

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.