Sunday, April 13, 2014

An empowering Pedagogy, Ira Shor

FNED 346

Dr. Bogad

Education is a politically loaded issue.  Whenever something involves funding and budgets it is going to be political.  And one of the things that has been absent from our class discussions over the weeks as we have confronted the many injustices that are part of the status quo, is that we rarely talk about who is going to pay for "fixing the system".  In the end we all do.  This being the case it becomes a question of taxes, and then becomes a question of fair taxes.  You really do not want to get me started.  But I will quote Finn, as I did once before, “The status quo is the status quo because people who have the power (and money) to make changes are comfortable with the way things are.”  And this was so awfully played out in Jonathon Kozol’s Mott Haven years ago.

But “education is more than budgets, and policies. Schools make the people who make the people who make society.”  “Education can enable or inhibit the questioning habits of students, thus developing or disabling their critical relation to knowledge, schooling and society.”  (Apple, 1979, 1982, 1988)  These statements are highly alarming to me as was the magnitude of this article and the concerns it raises.  (I do love the Empowering Pedagogy though)
So let me focus here.

Shor states that “People are naturally curious.  They are born learners”   But somewhere along the way, whether in school or elsewhere, for many, something stifles this natural tendency to ask and learn.

While researching for my final project, I came across a vast amount of material from Alfie Kohn in which he discusses a huge web of policies and practices that essentially crush the innocent curiosity of children.  Kohn is big advocate of allowing students to instigate the creation of a democratic classroom community.  He believes it is a big mistake not to do so.  At this point so do I.

In Shor’s Empowering Pedagogy,  The first value is participation.  In both of my other education classes, a significant amount of time is spent on the tools we can use to create this empowering classroom.  In my observations, I have witnessed the result of this working, and also not working.  It is truly the key to effective classroom management, and the door to empowering educational values that can develop students into citizen’s who think critically and act democratically.

As we think about what kind of teachers we want to be, I am taking from Shor tools I hope to use at least once a year.  Can I effectively engage all students in a discussion of what the rules and norms of the class should be?  What the students need it to be?  This is the essence of the Learner centered democratic classroom.  Not necessarily an easy thing to do, especially with kids who are used to being told what is expected of them instead of asked what do they think should be expected of them.  But we have to start somewhere.  I was especially moved by Shor’s account on page 27, “To help myself. . . . students should start out by questioning the material and the process of schooling. “  Try to read this page because it is very powerful and I have heard of this approach first hand, and the teacher’s I have met who do this, insist it is magical. . . And I'd like to point out that in all of my classes I am asked to evaluate my own work.  And in this class we are also asked to evaluate our own work and in some cases each others' (Blog comments).  Personally, not feeling judged and not being in a competition has allowed me the freedom I need to learn.  Well played Dr. Bogad, well played!

Finally I want to take a moment and go back to the idea of an inquiry based learning experience. This is at the essence of Johnson, Delpit and Finn.  The classrooms that enable critical thinking will provide students with the powerful literacy skills with which to move about in the world,  they will have the power to create opportunities for themselves and to make a difference the way they want to make a difference.
If you are working with small kids, there is an age where everything out of their mouth is a question.  As parents, it can be awesome, exhausting, hilarious and a nightmare! ***  When my daughter was 5, she spent 3 days at a prestigious Providence school for evaluation in their application process.    A year earlier they would have taken her, but there was no space.  After the three days I was told she would not be considered because she asked too many questions.  At the time I was a pissed Mother Bear.  But, she ended up in a wonderful public elementary school, I didn’t have to drive 4 hours 5 days a week, and her creativity wasn’t crushed.

* * *during the “question” period, my little girl and I were driving past the big blue bug one day, and she asked, “Mom do you think that ants look at the big blue bug like god and ask it questions and if it doesn’t answer they make up answers?”   “Of course,"  I said.  "It’s the way people do it too.”  The two of us are very sarcastic.  (We are not religious, but we are very spiritual, and I apologize if I offended anyone.  That is never my intent.)

Here she is. . . yes I made the watermelon shoes. . . it's a summertime tradition at our house . . .  

 The other picture is her 8th birthday: pin the tail on the alien. . . . 

And finally, I'd like share 2 links.  The first is to the Kahn Academy.  A non-profit educational website created in 2006 whose mission is to provide a "free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere".
The quote below is from the second link.  The schools in Los Altos CA are undertaking a huge change in policy.  And it aligns pretty perfectly with Ira Shor's Empowering Pedagogy.  At the heart of their changes is the Kahn academy.

"(The) focus for two years has been on developing a culture of ongoing learning in the schools.  “Our teachers felt un-empowered; that they did not have permission to change.”  The district was introduced to Khan Academy two years ago.  Alyssa says, “Khan was a great tool to give our teachers something tangible to work with, to start moving away from the assembly line model and build a blended learning experience. It helped us all to build the rationale that we need to ‘do’ learning in a very different way.


  1. Hi Viv! You did a great job on this post! You made some great connections and I love the specific quotes you chose. Also, I like how you connected back to yourself and what you hope to take from this. Awesome job!

  2. Hi Viv, I love your post this week! I love how you were able to use the article to make so many connections to your own life and your experiences of being a parent. Great job!

  3. Hey Viv, your posts every week are always inspiring and well written. I liked all of your connections to the article and to your own life. Great job!

  4. I just watched the "Kahn" video... Amazing. Your blogs are always so readable and interesting to me, and I learn so much!