Teaching in Material Context

by | Nov 7, 2020 | Struggle for Democracy | 0 comments

In spite of well researched inequities in the U.S., many educators work without an understanding of the material conditions that perpetuate these inequities. Disproportionalities based on race and low socio-economic standing are often the silent giant in classrooms and school board meetings. Those who bring up race can be targeted as trouble makers and isolated. Some educators work in an essence of oblivion; they close doors, choose friends carefully, consolidate support, and hope for the best. Others venture out with intention of creating fundamental change only to face resistance and dead ends. Based on experience in urban, rural, and tribal schools throughout the west coast, it is not uncommon to hear narratives of denial, abrogation of responsibility, and finger pointing. Some teachers leave education frustrated and demoralized. Educators’ individual and collective capacity to explore contradictions and possible solutions is obstructed by codes and considerations of pathologizing silences.

The presence of contradictions and inequities is a result of the dominant power relationships (economic, political, and social systems) which shape, propel, and nurture them. These systems define society. It becomes the task of the teacher to orchestrate the interplay between dominant systems and the conducts and relationships affiliated with them, and emergent systems and the conducts and relationships affiliated with them. It is a power relationship teachers hold, one that does not exist apart from society in a global context. The teaching/learning prospect is simultaneously shaped by society and shaping society. All of humanity is interconnected. In the U.S. context, democracy implies that all peoples benefit from participating in spheres of social, economic, and political life that directly impact them. Practical actions that support democratic solutions lead to recognizing the influence of exclusive, dominant power configurations in our day-to-day lives and lead to practical actions that support democratic solutions. Such organized actions result in changes in material conditions– greater democratic participation and greater equity. They make way for creative, trusting, and inclusive relationships capable of upholding the interests of the common good, where very often they have not existed in the past.

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