Speeding-Up or Leading to Liberation?

  • B) what are the major limitations of the Tyler Rationale
    • I think the major limitation is that with the Tyler Rationale you can’t challenge the structural injustice of society in any significant way. Well, I guess you could, depending on what your “objectives” are, but you’re probably not going to be able to within state-written curriculum in state schooling institutions. Because the endgame of state education is going to be preparation of graduates to perform functions within existing social relations, not to give students the thinking style, knowledge, and praxis necessary to revolutionize social relations. As the meme goes: Nobody is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. So I think you’re probably unlikely to be able to resist capitalism through a tylerist classroom practice. 
    • Another limitation is that if the learning outcomes are pre-determined by teacher, curriculum, and schooling, then there is not much room for students to shape the direction/goals of their learning. We can work hard to do student-centred activities, self-assessment, and constructivism – but if it’s always heading towards a teacher-controlled endpoint this means student power is limited to only how they learn/show what they’re supposed to learn/show – not determining what is important to learn. I think that would be seen as a bad thing if your ultimate hope is to limit teacher control and help each student create their own learning on their own terms. But on the other hand, and contradicting my first bullet point a little bit, it might be less-obviously a bad thing if your goal is to interfere with the reproduction of dominant culture and foster revolutionary/emancipatory social change, because – because to break dominant culture you need to give students clear perspectives and guide them to critical knowledge that takes an uncompromising position on capitalism.
  • C) what is made possible by Tyler mode
    • It makes learning goals, learning plans, and assessment clear and visible. This could make it possible for teachers to do really outcome-based assessment and instruction, and for students to understand where they’re going, if they’re learning successfully or not, what they need to learn better, how to reach the goals, etc. This could help abate some of the inequity in attainment of curriculum outcomes (although never, ever all of the inequity in achievement). 
    • It also could make it possible for teachers to lead students in building knowledge and practices that threaten capitalism, because one of the things propping up capitalism is hegemony, social relations and knowledge (about what is, what has been, what should be) that reproduces itself through its truthiness in the dominant culture. Left uninterrupted it will continue to reproduce itself. Maybe part of disrupting hegemony can be teaching for a counterhegemony based on clear diagnosis of need, formulation of objectives, and selection of content. But again, back to my first bullet – what would that look like when working within state schooling?
  • A) how have I experienced the Tyler rationale in my own schooling? I think maybe I’ve experienced some of the Tyler rationale In the education degree at UofR. Consider: 
  • “The central theory is…. Education should prepare for specific activities of life… find the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that men [sic] need… these will be the objectives of the curriculum… the curriculum will be the series of experience which children and youth must have by way of obtaining those objectives.” (Bobbit)
  • And Tyler’s steps are: “Diagnosis of need; formulation of objectives; selection of content; organization of content; selection of learning experiences; organization of learning experiences; determination of what to evaluate and of the ways and means of doing it.”
  • And this excerpt; “One criticism that was made, and can continue to be made, of [The Tyler/Bobbit approach] is that there is no social vision or programme to guide the process of curriculum construction. As it stands it is a technical exercise.”
  • I think all three points can be said about the faculty of ed. Our education is mostly technical training: we are mostly concerned with learning how to interpret curriculum outcomes, develop long term plans, develop assessment tools, implement short-term plans, use teaching strategies, manage classrooms, etc. In that sense, there is not much social vision. In other words, we are focused on “formulation of objectives, selection of content, selection of learning experiences, evaluating…” 
  • You might object, ‘but we emphasize reconciliation and indigenization, and we emphasize making education good and inclusive for all students, that is a clear social vision.’ OK, it is for sure a social vision. However, I argue that where reconciliation comes into our education, it mostly looks something like, “how can we effectively and authentically integrate the treaty outcomes and indigenous ways of knowing into our [long term plans, assessments, teaching strategies, classroom management, etc] (which is technical). And, at the Regina Public school division there’s a huge focus on improving indigenous on-time graduation rates, i.e. improving opportunities and success for indigenous students – again making teachers technocrats working towards a policy goal. So I think you could argue this is Tylerism mixed with progressive, student-centred reform-education, and the added specificity of ‘indigenization’. I argue this is still fundamentally a technical exercise, its endgame is reducing inequality in educational outcomes between settlers and First Nations students, and it’s not a social vision that seeks a radical transformation of colonialism which is rooted after all in land, resources and sovereignty – not grad rates. Not to say that reducing inequality in education outcomes is a bad thing. Just that it can be categorized as technocratic as opposed to visionary.
  • I think what the distinction between ‘technical’ as opposed to ‘social vision’ means to me is: if we want to have a transformative social vision for education we should look at reimagining the purpose of public education: not as the Tylerist effective preparation of individuals, neither as the romantic ‘progressive’ child-centered vision of the social reformers (give everyone a chance to advance in society regardless of social class, race, etc). Instead we should look at how to make resistance the purpose of the education system. Like, we don’t just teach ABOUT history, we make history in the form of direct resistance. We don’t just teach ABOUT un-settling, we DO un-settling. My guess is that at the university that goal is impeded by a lot of things like the criteria for certifying new teachers, or the dominant commonsense of “just teach me instruction strategies and get me in the classroom.” I know at high school I felt that vision is obstructed by formal curriculum and other informal expectations of schooling. But boy I wish we could get away from it! 

Common Sense: Education and American Imperialism

Stuart Hall’s definition of commonsense is the “stratified deposits of more coherent philosophical systems [that] have sedimented over time without leaving any clear inventory,” and that are taken for granted or used “without thinking” (Katia and Mike’s slides). Stuart Hall is one of the founders of British Cultural Studies. Cultural studies is a field that looks at how power, oppression and domination are enforced not only through coercion and material/economic power, but also through cultural and ideological practices, knowledge, beliefs and ideologies, historically and contextually contingent social identities. So it looks at how our lives and subjectivities are disciplined through systems that gain our consent and participation in social roles that don’t benefit us – for example how and why we willingly reproduce ourselves as wage labour to generate surplus value for the accumulation of capital. Italian revolutionary marxist/postmarxist Antonio Gramsci defines commonsense as a fragmentary and incoherent conception of the world that is uncritically absorbed, appearing to be neutral and obvious, but in fact serves fundamentally conservative interests, and allows people to see their social world as an assortment of spontaneously, naturally and inevitably emerging and de-historicized arrangements instead of a deliberate and organized product of power. This is called hegemony and is to be combatted by the creation of an alternative common sense, called counter-hegemony. (https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/toward-a-new-common-sense) In the field of radical pedagogy which draws heavily on cultural studies and Gramsci, Henry Giroux calls commonsense the pedagogical force of the culture, meaning the institutions and practices (either inside or outside of schools) that serve a pedagogical function in reproducing the next generation of people who believe the dominant conception of how things are and should be. (On Critical Pedagogy)

One of the interesting parts of commonsense identified by Kumashiro was the idea that schooling in Nepal (when he went for his peace corps deployment) could be seen as something that was several stages or decades behind American schooling. This way of thinking supposes that there is an inevitable teleological outcome in the development of schooling: that all schooling is at a particular spot along a natural line from less-to-more developed towards a predetermined endpoint, which is natural and obviously good/progressive. Most importantly, it implies that America is further along the line. This relates back to Gramsci’s definition of commonsense as a conception of the world that makes it seem to be spontaneously and naturally emerging, rather than the product of specific and deliberate choices serving particular interests. What this mode of commonsense does is ‘naturalize’ the overtly political and particular choices that have been made about schooling, meaning it makes them seem as though they aren’t choices at all, aren’t historically and politically contingent, but just are. So it takes the current existing reality of American schooling and constructs that as natural, necessary, historically progressive, good, ideal and timeless in the sense of ‘destined to be’.

But this commonsense idea is problematic not just because it is wrong about schooling, not just because other types of schooling are “different, but OK too.” It is problematic additionally because it has the not-incidental effect of constructing other societies like Nepal as ‘deficient’ and ‘behind’. This doesn’t just hurt feelings. It rationalizes an American paternalism and makes sense of an international order in which certain things are able to happen. This paternalism is reflected in the Peace Corps’ entire existence as an organization. The Peace Corps was created in the Cold War to serve as the international ‘pedagogical force of the culture’ of pro-american anti-communism. During the Cold War, American foreign policy was preoccupied with taking economic and political control of formerly/currently colonized regions and peoples in the Global South in order to ‘prevent the spread of communism’, which in truth meant to ensure that American corporate and diplomatic interests were prioritized by the governments of these places. John Kennedy believed that the exploited and impoverished people of the Global South would welcome communism because of its obvious benefits to them, unless America could persuade them that alignment with the USA could improve their lives and communities. He created the Peace Corps to dig wells, build schools, improve agricultural yields (etc), all intended to persuade the colonized that American intervention was not self-interested; to build good will towards America. The success or failure of this kind of imperialist pedagogical activity would impact on the big picture of economics and geopolitics. So the stakes in this ‘commonsense’ schooling reform initiative are not just about education – what it is in America, what it is in Nepal, what it should be, cultural difference – rather, the stakes are the role played by cultural/development missions like Kumashiro’s in the bigger picture of building ‘consent’ for an American economic imperialism by which the USA has taken control of the governments and countries of the world, restructured them to align with American interests, and sought to bring about the ‘end of history’ (in the cold war sense).

Other aspects of commonsense for Kumashiro include the grammar of schooling and the hidden curriculum: when schools are open, how students move through their day/time at school, which disciplines are considered core and valuable, the relationship of hierarchy between students and teachers, etc. Kumashiro identifies that some ‘alternative’ schools try to challenge these commonsense practices of what schooling should be. But, due to the hegemonic nature of commonsense about public shoaling, alternative projects are dismissed as biased or distracted from what’s been constructed as the ‘real work’ of schools. In that dismissal is when we most clearly see the activity of ‘commonsense’. 

But for me the most interesting part of commonsense mentioned by Kumashiro was the buried, invisible assumptions embedded in his education reform goals in Nepal – the idea that American education was superior and that the backwards Nepali society could benefit from Americanization. The problem is not ‘cultural difference’ and the embededness of ‘values and ideologies’ in American schooling that were different from ‘Nepali values’. In other words the problem is not ‘cultural relativism’. The problem, rather, is that this commonsense education project is actually part of the ‘pedagogical arm’ of an agenda of power, capital, and American international empire/hegemony that constructs the world in North/South colonial relations of power and wealth.  So ‘why is it important to pay attention to the commonsense’? Because by understanding the way in which the hegemonic culture of American capitalism and imperialism has worked to construct Kumashiro as basically a missionary educator in a ‘backward’ society, and understanding the history of cold war anti-communism in which Kumashiro’s role has been constituted, Kumashiro can avoid becoming a willing (if unwitting) agent of American empire.