Everyone is always interested in who the ‘winner’ is and who the ‘loser’ is. When teachers invite their own strategies into their classroom this may be viewed as a ‘win’ – right? After all, they have had a more extensive educational background, which probably brings along more real-life experiences – right? Maybe not… Perhaps a teacher who uses their own strategies is taking away from the learning experience. What if a teacher is actually depriving students of “intellectual spaces” instead of providing an environment for higher learning?
Mary Louise Pratt poses an interesting situation. She believes that because the classroom can vary in so many ways that a systemized form of teaching was created, thus taking the teacher’s ability to use their own strategies away from them. Basically, she believes that the government, or any other higher from of authority, took ‘education’ and (essentially) turned it into a form of communism – they made each classroom equal. They took the culture of education and made it into a mold; taking away different ‘communities’, or rather as I see it, areas of emphasis. If you can compare education to a culture (culture being a system of shared beliefs, values, ideas, and religion), then one can understand how there are areas within a culture that act as communities (the variety of subjects in school) that add emphasis and help round out the culture as a whole.
I can see the issues with both sides of the problem. While some teachers may have very good points of view on particular subjects, others may not. If teachers were allowed to use whatever material they wished curriculum would be inconsistent and virtually useless. How would we know if students were learning the skills they needed if textbooks and resources were left up to the teacher? Of course, if it’s placed on lockdown too much, students would be left with nothing but dry, hard-to-get-through material, which they would not enjoy. I feel as if I can relate to each side of this problem because I’ve experienced it on each extreme.
My junior year of high school was a rather interesting one. At the start of the second semester I was given a new math teacher, Mr. Thompson. I heard he was a little eccentric, but I wasn’t entirely sure just how ‘fun’ he could be. Sure – I’d seen him walking down the halls at lunch with a cart full of candy and small toys often found inside piñatas, usually tossing them at will to anyone he saw. But I just thought, “Oh cool! This guy must really love students”. Yes, he most certainly did. He loved students so much, that all he wanted to do with them was socialize. He felt that class time was best spent ‘discussing math’ rather than actually teaching us how to work through equations. And by ‘discussing math’, I mean “let’s spend the entire hour and half talking about the latest prank he played on the teacher down the hall”. Oh yes, I joke with you not. My poor sign language teacher, Mrs. White, who is severely OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), went to her classroom one morning to find her entire desk wrapped in saran wrap, in the center of the room, with all the desks splaying from it ask if they were sun rays. The worst part of all: glitter! It was everywhere. You can imagine how spending each class period like this, talking useless banter about others, was essentially pointless. It was hard to attend class knowing I wouldn’t be learning. It was difficult to go home and read an algebra two textbook and teach it to myself. Luckily, I had many friends in calculus who loved to help me out.
Mr. Thompson had the sort of power that allowed him to utilize his classroom in whichever way he saw fit. He was given the ability to maximize performance in his students, give them all that they needed, bring in additional resources aside from the school district assigned textbook, and create activities that would best fit the learning styles of his students. However, he chose to let the child within him control this precious classroom time. So you can see how many feel that this power ought to be taken from the teachers. Too many teachers, like Mr. Thompson, are destroying the educational community by taking away what’s being directly given to them.
At the same time, during my sophomore year of high school, I had a fantastic biology teacher, Mr. Whiles. This was the class that I looked forward to each day. We almost never touched the textbooks because his lesson plans were so detailed! He actually knew and understood what he was talking about (as you hope all teachers are). He gave us options, room to wiggle and experiment with what we were learning about, the chance to earn extra credit by finding examples of biology in our local newspaper, and many activities that reached out to all learning styles. Basically, if you didn’t understand the material in class one day, you could count on him recapping it in a new way the next day just to show how biology is a natural, scientific subject, but also something that is ever changing and experiencing new discoveries each day. Mr. Whiles is the type of teacher that really jumped on board with learning and discovering by using his own strategies. He wasn’t afraid to bring in outside sources that he knew were reliable.
We know that in everything there is an equal and opposite reaction. Even though these two classrooms were wildly different, we know that they were a part of an educational culture that wished to endorse educational communities – not discourage them. Pratt coins the term “contact zones” in her essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone”. This is where, as she says, “A social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other…” In my opinion, she is spot on! My high school (the culture) was endorsing two different types of classroom styles (communities); one where work was never accomplished and one where learning was done in a great abundance. It’s interesting to see how two extremes can thrive in such a close proximity. I mean, they were definitely ‘clashing and grappling with each other’ from my point of view.
Perhaps our education system IS too ‘utopian’ (unable to enact fraternity, liberty, and equality). We were definitely lacking in the equality of our classrooms at my high school. According to Pratt, she argues that “we need to develop ways of understanding (even noticing) social and intellectual spaces that are not homogeneous or unified”. Well – I think my high school was definitely NOT homogeneous – or rather it IS heterogeneous, just as she was hoping for us to see. I’m just not sure how this was such a great idea. I think the idea of a heterogeneous learning environment is good, but in actuality, it is bad. At least in my situation: it turned out to be bad. To decide on either a ‘homogeneous’ learning environment, or a ‘heterogeneous’ learning environment, I feel would be wrong. There can’t be one specific ‘winner’ as everyone hopes for. This is something that has too many variables to decipher right now. Its perfection can only come with time.