So why WERE we here?

a glance in the rearview as we prepare to drive on

Welcome to the End...

Twelve weeks ago, we began this journey into Popular Education. Online courses are convenient, but bear the burden of being anonymous. For some of you perhaps, this has given you leave to be more vocal in the discussion threads than you might be in-person. For myself, I am more frustrated than liberated by the lack of opportunity for reflexive discussion. The layout of the class has allowed all of us to practice with popular education, taking control of how we conceptualize the theories we read about. We’ve been able to add resources for our discussion weeks and make decisions about how deeply we want to engage with the material and discussions.

For both Kendel and myself, curating the Why We Were Here submissions has been a glimpse into the past. Some of us may have had a reasonable expectation of what the course would entail. For myself, enrolling here was not so much of an action towards information, but a reaction away from the other classes that were still open. Instead of tolerating something I was certain I’d dislike, I took a gamble on a vague course description. Twelve weeks on, having read some interesting theorists, I have been challenged to expand my ideas on power balance in the classroom. We found ourselves wondering just how our ideas have changed and been shaped by the readings. Using the assignments that were shared on the discussion board, as well as our own, Kendel and I found three themes that connected all of us: Diversity, aspiration, and empowerment.

On this webpage, we will be showcasing these three themes, with quotes from the eight assignments we have access to. We will also be critically reflecting on our own journeys throughout this course. We invite you to share your thoughts at the bottom of the page. How has this course changed your concept of the classroom? Has it affected how you see yourself as an educator? Did you experience moments of collegiality or disconnect with the reading, and if you did, which ones and why?
-- DR


As individuals, we are all studying for the purpose of expanding our knowledge within the scope of Education. There is a common element. However, we approach Education from entry points weaving a richer tapestry of past experiences, thoughts, and skills.

Looking at each student’s answer to the open-ended question “Why are you here,” it became evident that one of the great strengths was the spectrum of information at our disposal. Formal education was spread out across Ontario, and yet we all seemed to come from different directions. Subjects studied as a pathway towards Education include Anthropology, Geology, Psychology, Sociology, Criminology, Drama, Music, and Early Childhood Education. Allowing for these different streams of knowledge to come together provides an environment in which everyone can share and learn something with others.

And one of the marvels that diversity presents is the opportunity for constructive debate on contentious points of view, and helps to foster a critical mind. When there is popular thought, it is easy to simply accept it. Brett Gloor mentions that “it was always pounded into me that a university education was essential for a bright future,” which is not necessarily the truth for everyone. He continue to say that listening to this advice was a serious error for him as he felt completely unprepared for the challenge. It’s important to teach (to) diversity regardless of the heterogeneity of the group because it expands their critical abilities to question things in place that may no longer be decided the best option for the situation. Similarly, Rajinder Dulku notes within her own education that she was “exposed to different perspectives of child rights and how childhood is universal.” What I took away from this is that though we may be unique individuals, there are traits and periods that we all share. Within those shared spaces, diversity can respectfully grow into mutual understanding.

As a future educators teaching students how to be accepting, respectful individuals is an important part of holistic teaching.

-- KD

Flipping the Privilege Script in the Classroom

The Angry Eye - Brown Eye-Blue Eye Experiment - part 1
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"Why are we here?" can be broken down in so many ways. Why did we all choose to do a Masters of Education? Why did we all enroll in this course? Yet a foundation to both these questions is; Why are we all in education?

There was a clear divide in our assignments, even from the first line. Meghan Bellin declared with passion that "[she] knew from an early age that [she] wanted to be an educator." My own opening line was "I've fought against being in education for as long as I can remember" which was shortly followed up by "I swore I would never, ever, not in any way, go into education."
Neither one of us was alone.

From those of us who dreamed of teaching as a child, it was clear that every life choice had been a step in that direction. You wrote about volunteer hours, about working with children every chance you had, about applying (and getting into!) a Faculty of Education program, the excitement of being in the classroom. During highschool, Meghan volunteered with struggling students. Rajinder Dulku's journey began with a background in Early Childhood Education, to fulfill her dream of working with children with special needs.

For those of us who seemed to have got lost on the way to the vending machine and landed ourselves in teaching, most of us found teaching through work. Both Brett Gloor and I taught abroad, and with him saying "I loved everything right from the start; the food, the city, the culture, the mountains and especially the people... I also loved the job" [sic]. For Kristian Mandarano, working at the Apple store gave him an opportunity to educate about things he was passionate about. Moving from "I always swore [teaching] was NOT for me" to "I enjoyed my students and really started to enjoy my job" came through a Grade 5 LTO for Tomiko Hoshizaki.

Yet everything wasn't black and white. There was a full spectrum of aspiration to be a teacher, including some of us who were indifferent. Even after completing his B.Ed, Kristian Mandarano still "wasn't sure that [he] would have a career in teaching" until that fateful job at Apple. For Ryan Thomson, he pursued Social Work at first, but drifted towards Education.

No one really mentioned how teaching came to be their passion. For those who had dreamed of it from childhood, perhaps it was an idolized teacher? Perhaps it was a love of imparting knowledge? For those of us who came to it later in life, what brought us to this point? Is teaching a default when we couldn't figure out what else we wanted to do? Did we begin teaching to pass the time, only to discover that we both loved it and were good at it, as both Brett and I did? Was it the challenge we loved, as Kendel did? What does that tipping point mean for our teaching practice? If we dreamed of teaching while in a banking system of education, will we become a banker-teacher? If we hated the idea of teaching, will we be more likely to flip our classrooms a la Freire? The anecdotal evidence points to yes on both counts.

Do not be fooled by anecdotes.

The reading that spoke the loudest to me about actual teaching practice was Guru Clown, or Pedagogy of the Carnivalesque, by Mady Schutzman. The mad desperation she approaches her teaching practice with - to bring deep meaning to her students while simultaneously entertaining them - closely resembles my own teaching practice. I want my students to be inspired by my teaching, to take a spark of inspiration and set the world aflame with passion. I want it so desperately that I've taught university-level, academic reading/writing skills in a British accent with different mannerisms because my students dared me to. I took up homework with Smeagol's voice and admonished them in Gollum's. I used youtube nature videos to simulate the environment of the novels we read and demonstrated that their idea of 'dirty' water came from a place of privilege (water from the tap vs. water from an African watering hole) by drinking whichever water they voted was the dirtiest (which was coincidentally from the water cooler). My features have contorted with Jim Carrey-esque flexibility, as I grappled over the language barrier in my attempts to move them. I would bask in the moments they told me they took our discussions outside the classroom. Those were the moments that moved me, that rewarded me as a teacher. When my students came back with "I told my dad what we were talking about in class and we had a really great discussion about it..." or "I told my Mom what you said about the government control of the media in Korea and we looked up the stories in English media together and she was really surprised how different they are! She's really angry at the government now!" Through all these classes, through the clown-persona, the theatrics, and the passion for social justice, I was essentially, a banking-style teacher. I spoke for the majority of the class. I had difficulty relinquishing control of the narrative in the classroom. When I did, there were mixed results. I believe this has to do with the broad banking-style of the Korean education system in general. When given the freedom to think and speak for themselves, my older students weren't quite sure how. (I read my muting impact as limited since I noticed that free-thinking skills decreased as students got higher in the formal Korean system. The students who had spent a great deal of time with me were usually better than their classmates - likely due to the fact I generally encourage out-of-the-box thinking)

During my professional year, we had a conference-style day with sessions with a variety of education professionals. I attended a session with the Secretariat of Literacy for the Ministry of Education, who asked us what our vision for our classrooms were. She overheard my discussion with my peers and lit up with my scoffing "I want to raise a classroom of protesters." Confidently, she called on me during the group discussion to explain my answer. With each word I said, her face paled as she realized that our definition of protester was different. I want my students critically engaged in their education, to the point that they will speak out against the system that disempowers them. I want my students to question their curriculum, to question the government, to question the administration of the school, and to question the authority of myself and others to dictate their learning. She wanted students who would grow up to be appropriately civilly engaged citizens, who would protest with their ballot every four years. I want students who will create petitions, viral videos, grassroots organizations, and light the fire of change in society.

Not quite what she wanted.

-- DR
What if students controlled their own learning? | Peter Hutton | TEDxMelbourne
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Each person has within them a seed from which a tree can emerge. Children in particular have fragile trees and they need to be nurtured and cared for in appropriate ways in order to grow strong and healthy. Allowing students feel and believe that they have potential is vital for teachers and it instills within students a motivation to become an active agent in their own learning. Empowering as a teacher also means to create situations in which students can really feel empowered. The assignments helped outline two different views: how successful teachers can empower their students, and; how will empowerment impact student life.

First, Kristian Mandarano addresses the environment of a popular education classroom saying that the program entails of a collaborative initiative “which focuses on groups rather than individual solutions to problems, involves a high level of participation, and is an environment where everyone teaches and everyone learns.” Rajinder Dulku goes one step further to call it “interactive learning,” a type of learning achieved through doing, sharing, and comparing with others. This environment reflects not only upon the facilitator (teacher, though taking on a neutral position in the learning), but also upon the students and their participation. For Ryan Thomsom, the role of facilitator looks more akin to a basketball coach, a person to offer constructive suggestions on how to achieve certain goals, though ultimately it’s up to the players to decide what happens.

Second, both Meghan Bellin shared in her assignment that she wishes to share her passion with students and “instilling a love of learning in [her] students.” That love of learning is the special motivational factor provides students with the confidence and the persistence to follow through. And similarly, Brett wrote that he wants to encourage his students “to be passionate about learning as a way of life.” This seems to me as a type of holistic learning by being a role model and guiding students towards learning independently. It also allows students’ inherent skills and talents to be coached and built upon by a learned individual.

Contrary to the teacher side, students need to feel validated which stems from several assignments. Daphne Rodaway reflects on her past shuffling through the education system as a gifted student. Often being told to let other children to answer, for example, removed her agency in her learning and is partially responsible for her not being “entirely comfortable meeting new people.” When skills and knowledge are disempowered, students lose motivation to work well and find interest in learning materials. This confirms what other assignments have attested: student empowerment is, at least partially, connected to student agency and motivation for persisting through difficulties.

-- KD

Getting Revved Up For The Classroom

Kid President's Pep Talk to Teachers and Students!
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From Daphne...

It is hard, sometimes, looking for the forest when there is not enough distance to really see beyond the pines. At times, I feel ‘critical reflection’ is limited by time. I could immediately reflect upon a single piece of reading, or reflect on the course in a few years time. Looking back over the previous twelve weeks however, I find that I am peering into a fog. I shall endeavor to see shapes in the mist.

As James observed in his paper, “according to Friere, neutrality is a myth” (Czank, 2012). The analogy that James used in his questions, about Toto pulling back the curtain, could be twofold. At the basic level, Freire could have pulled back the curtain on the alleged neutrality of education. He certainly established that education is inherently political. On this level, Toto had no curtain to pull back in my case. I have always tended to see politics where others see neutrality, and due to my experience teaching abroad and growing up in a teacher’s household, I came into education with my eyes plastered open to its political nature. More than once during my professional year, my professors and I had honest conversations after class about the political nature of the classroom and the education/indoctrination of young minds. With gentle words, they asked me to let the others come to these realizations in their own time, and not to throw them in the deep end of it as my blunt rhetoric is wont to do. So poor Freire had no revelations to share with me on that level.

Yet what about the curtain of Freire himself? Was there another layer that reveals the fissures of impracticality to the entire exercise of popular education itself? The doubt I had when reading Freire initially was more akin to cynicism than a well-formed critique. With further readings and ruminations, the cynicism has taken shape. I believe the failure of critical pedagogy is only in the belief that it will provide a cogent end product. Yes, critiquing the establishment is necessary, and giving power to the oppressed essential to beget meaningful change. Yet it does not represent a system that can withstand time. As I stated in my comments this week, revolutionaries do not make good post-revolutionaries, and this is true for ideas as well as leaders.

In the interest of transparency, I must explain things about myself. I grew up from a position of privilege, yet I understood myself as drifting in the unknown space between working class and the professional class. My neighbours were lawyers and bankers, but my own parents were a modest electrician and a teacher. I was made very aware of the difference of my circumstances. My mother worked. From a young age, I questioned what ‘gave me away’ to people from either side of the class divide as an Other. Perhaps if I could figure it out, I could erase away the marks of my confused class history and blend into one group, at least. Something I noticed was that the working class peers I had tended to blame outside of themselves, while accepting their status within a system rigged against them. They were robbed of agency, since the government, the rich, the elites, were stacking the deck against them. Yet by blaming the system, by assigning responsibility for their circumstances outside of themselves, they simultaneously absolved themselves of any responsibility for changing their circumstances. My observation can be easily misunderstood as the “they just don’t work hard enough to get out of poverty” tripe that is fed to us by capitalists and Republicans alike, yet this is not what I mean. The working class work. Yet how they direct this work is slightly different from the professional classes. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell observed the difference in the work generated by different types of recent immigrants (2011). Those who worked at jobs that did not incorporate big-picture thinking, and where innovation was not linked to improved economic outcomes, have not seen the trans-generational gains that those whose work did incorporate these concepts. Returning back to my childhood desire for a class community, the professional class did not disparage the system’s dysfunctions. Instead, its members chose to use the system to promote themselves, regardless of its intended use to help, or discourage them. They exploited flaws, leapfrogged boundaries, and plucked strings like an accomplished harpist.

With these eyes, I read Freire. True, educational revolution must come from the people, but can it? Conversely, can any revolution from without actually work?

I believe that Freire is not the conniving charlatan of the Wizard of Oz. He was aware of the limitations of his own critical pedagogy. He knew the tools needed to dismantle the system would be different from those needed to rebuild it. How many times, throughout Pedagogy of the Oppressed, did he reference the need for stages of revolution? First, the educators must deconstruct the system by empowering the oppressed. Only then, can the oppressed arise and claim their rightful place. Unstated in that, is the fate of the educators who served as liberators. V was doomed to suffer for the strength of his own revolution in V for Vendetta. A previous example would come from Dogma, where the character Bethany is martyred for saving the world. Is this inevitable? In my discussion post, I argued that it was. Great change cannot come without great cost. While I doubt, in a post critical pedagogical world, the educators responsible would suffer both V’s and Bethany’s fates, their place would be an unknown one, their roles no longer necessary.

All these words later, and I wonder how much the fog has lifted. The learnings from all my classes this term are somewhere out there in the mist, and I cannot imagine untangling them yet. Critical pedagogy is knotted together with the critical theory from my Research Methods class, and I cannot separate my dissatisfaction with critical theory from my imagining of critical pedagogy. Critical theory lacks the transformative drive of participatory action research, leaving the revolutionary in me dissatisfied, but I worry that I’m transposing that deficiency onto another concept. It is pedagogy here that we are discussing, not research, right?

‘No’ is my first answer.

If we are all curating a political environment in our classrooms, aren’t we simultaneously experimenting on our students, testing them for outcomes and responses to our stimuli? The difference in the classroom comes with the focal depth, the very same thing I struggle with here. Perhaps our students will not have the distance necessary to see how our political experimentations have shaped them. It is rare for teachers to truly appreciate their impact. We pray our influence is a positive one, we walk into that classroom with a hard-drive full of good intentions, yet all we can do is give the students the tools they will need to create a more just world. We do everything we can to teach them how to use them correctly.

When the fog clears though, it’s up to them to use them.

-- DR

From Kendel...

The past twelve weeks have been an enriching learning experience, encompassing more than just the context of a single course. Considering the entry assignment to explain why we were here (as in the course to which we had subscribed) and what, educationally, happened for us to reach the point where we aspired skills to assess our pasts. There was a lot of new information, Freire for example. Before September, I had no idea who Freire was or why his pedagogy was so critical. Little did I realise that it would serve to continue my journey for shaping my teaching style, including a collaborative spin.

Popular Education is a style of teaching that resembles more like a seminar facilitation. There is a common experience between the participants, and a facilitator asks leading questions (though never answers any questions directly) to necessitate participation. What became more apparent, however, was the notion that teaching is politicized. In the explanation of the second week’s discussion, James continues by explaining that “Education either supports the status quo, or it challenges it (to stay neutral is to side with power).” This applies not only in regards to what materials are being used to help instruct (or not), but even policies in place that shackle teachers to instruct in what Freire calls the Banking Method (an incredibly popular method among the French Immersion courses I took from 1996-2008) where students have no say in what is being taught, and are expected to regurgitate information without comprehending its inherent value. However, in the past twelve weeks I have seen a change in the perception of what it means to think critically and how to do so responsibly and constructively.

Something of note that occurred to me is that of context. Context is important regardless of what is being discussed. In that sense, intersectional context is important when addressing these critical assessments because these different identities and labels, and experiences associated to those often carry other connotations—whether positive or negative remains to be discerned. Considering the historical context that leads up to a piece of writing, or the political atmosphere, or even socioeconomic interplay can drastically alter meaning. In this case, if we were to look at the context of this assignment we would find telling details about Daphne and me. For instance, all of the excerpts from assignments that Daphne and I chose to include provided a particular positive outlook on education and the effects that diversity, aspirations, and empowerment have had on us as educators, or on our journey to become involved with education.

Critical reflection asks of its employer to consider who they are and what factors impacted that. Keeping in line with that, this semester has helped me to see my own positionality. I have been exposed to many ways I do not have privilege, though I had never been taught to consider in what ways I am privileged. Considering that I belong to two dominant cultures of privilege (male and cisgender, heteronormative), I was not consciously aware that decisions I made were based on certain characteristics that I was either born with, or that I consciously could not change. And to make matters worse, critical reflections in my academic career have all revolved around regurgitation of facts and statements of others but not clearly reflecting my own involvement with the material.

These past twelve weeks have worked towards developing a critical literacy in me, providing me with both the ability to decode and encode information. Donaldo Macedo discusses in the introduction of the thirtieth-anniversary edition of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed the importance of having language. Language is power. It can empower or silence depending on its use, and there are many examples of this empowerment throughout Education. Freire believed that education holds the key to overcoming oppression, and last year as a teacher candidate in a B.Ed. program, a problem emerged. It was noticed that among certain activities that critical reflection was used to get students thinking, but had no follow-through. Macedo comments that “Freire’s denunciation of oppression was not merely the intellectual exercise that we often find among many facile liberals and pseudo-critical educators,” and this really struck me. Praxis, within a classroom context, should allow for diversity and open-mindedness to flourish and take education one step further. When I think of praxis, a particular activity comes to mind. Working on literacy, two teachers decided to take an environmental stance showing students the impact of littering and how recycling, reusing materials, and reducing consumption can improve quality of life in keeping water sources clean. To reinforce the students’ new information, the teachers then asked students to draft a letter they would later to send to Dr. David Suzuki explaining their suggestions for protecting the environment or asking for his advice, all of which were met with personalized letters from his office and an autographed photo (on recycled paper, of course) for their class.

Popular education has empowered me to question dominant cultures through examining their situation in history, geopolitics, and socioeconomics. But much more than that, it has helped show me the importance of teaching students honestly and openly, and to become an active participant as well. This will undoubtedly help me on my journey, as well as others, in becoming more versed in education.

-- KD