Saturday, March 12, 2011

OK.... So What?

It was perfect timing.... a friend of mine is writing a paper on perceptions of Native English speaking teachers in Korea. Part of his project involved an analysis of a song that I wrote some time ago. It was a rather bitter song called "white professors in the R-O-K". He did a great analysis and he asked me some pretty difficult questions. I have attached my response below- in part because I felt quite uneasy about the Critical Pedagogies class last night. For those who don't wish to sort through my rant below, the short version is: I don't think that me standing up in front of the room preaching about the systematic problems with our education system is a very good use of our time together. I doubt that it makes any of us feel more empowered and more hopeful about our work. It likely does quite the opposite. While I think it's important to question what we're doing as teachers- questions may only take us so far. So, it's up to me (with your help) to work out the best use of our time together. Below is the long version of my response to my friend. Enjoy if you have the time and the desire:

thanks for the thoughts....
i really appreciate them today as i'm in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis. i don't disagree with anything you're saying. and during my past two years in korea i've begun to lose faith in higher degrees.... after all, i met plenty of people at penn state who struck me as less than thoughtful. moreover, i've met plenty of white guys out here who are clearly better teachers than i am. more education is not the solution. neither is blaming white guys who are probably good teachers. the truth is, i thought i had worked through all this before coming back to korea. apparently not.
last night i had my first critical pedagogies class. it didn't go well. class participants were quite engaged, they got what i was trying to say. they debated a bit, questioned the readings, they were very thoughtful.... but i'm left with a knot in my stomach. (more on that later).

as far as the song...
the point of the song was not so much to question white guys' ability to teach or to suggest that white guys need to read henry giroux before they are effective teachers. my beef is that for every white guy teaching english (even if very effectively) there is a korean/ filipino/ indian/ nigerian/ tanzanian/ etc/ who is not teaching english who may also be a very effective teacher-- and whose mere presence in a korean university would change the ways people see the english speaking world (and subsequently the ways students see themselves in an english speaking world). my problem never was with the white professor per se. my problem is with the way this whole game has been set up. if one is an effective teacher then one gets the better job, higher pay, professional success, but very few people that i've met are willing to discuss what exactly they're trying to achieve. as english teaching becomes a profession, then 'being a good teacher' becomes a goal in and of itself. great, but to what ends? for what 'real world' purpose? i see a lot of people who want to get 5 months off a year- and a lot of people who want to make english education in korea more effective, efficient, and maybe even fun... all fantastic goals, but i guess my feeling is that historically, all education has really done is reproduce what was already there. people sent to the top... people left behind. as the world has become 'more educated', the global problems have increased. strange. i think the real 'problem' of education has little to do with white professors. it has to do with the way the whole game is set up... very few people playing the game are doing anything to change the rules. why should they? the people who are leading the profession are the people who have been served well by it. those who haven't don't have much say.

all that said...
the reason for the existential crisis that i mentioned has nothing to do with all that. it has to do with the fact that i'm not sure i believe that questioning the value of education in a broad sense is actually relevant. after all, what really matters to people is feeling good, having a good day at work, connecting with a student or colleague or friend, coming home to someone, eating well, and having a good night's sleep. learning a few more tricks to make work go more smoothly is quite an asset. elaborating on the injustices perpetuated by education does little to make anyone feel more empowered, more effective, and more hopeful about their work. so if that's all true, what can a course like "critical pedagogies" actually offer? i guess i'm still waiting to find out. i have my reading list, a load of activities, and a basic sense that i would like to 'stir the pot'. but exactly what all the participants in the class can take from this experience... i'm not yet sure. what i do know is that i don't want to stand up in front of the class every week preaching about the systematic problems in our education system. i don't think that is very helpful to any of us.
the up side is that the class is just starting. it's obvious that as the course instructor, my learning has just begun. so far, i've learned that for some reason, i have a lot riding on this one single class. it's the first time i've been able to teach pretty much whatever i want. and it's a chance for me to discover what exactly i want to teach/ what i want to say/ what i feel is relevant. the class is full of very bright and very thoughtful people who are willing to engage. i feel lucky. i feel like it's a fabulous opportunity to more fully understand my goals as an educator (lesson one: i don't fully understand my goals as an educator). i hope students feel they have this sort of opportunity as well.

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