An Educational Bildungsroman



An Educational Bildungsroman:

A Journey from Special Education to College Professor

by: J. D. Rall

My educational story begins with an excruciating event in elementary school when I was held back to repeat the first grade for a second time. When we are young, we don’t have an awareness that might help us later, we hardly know the past, and the future is very far away. At the time, I did not understand that there was an intended benefit, that the adults in my life who were responsible for my education considered it in my best interest long-term to hold me back one more year.  I felt singled out and possibly a little inferior at the time, and over the years the experience festered and scarred.


That experience helped shape later experiences, like failing most of my 6th grade courses.  In middle school I was tested, then placed in Special Education classes.  My enrollment in these Special Education classes continued right through to the end of my grade school career.  At 12 or 13, I hadn’t figured out what it meant to be labeled “learning disabled.”  Although I didn’t articulate it even in my own thoughts, I understood that I was being segregated from the average kids because I was in remedial classes and there was a label on me that read “not abled.”  But it wasn’t just being placed in a remedial course that affected me.  Actually, I think it was the fact that these classes in my middle school were also separated physically from the rest of the “normal” classes.  My remedial classes were in a tower, locked high away from the plaza below where the average or acceptable kids mingled.  My classmates and I would sit at the tower windows and look down and dream of mingling, too, with everybody else.

Sadly, in high school the segregation continued.  Special education students were placed into a single classroom, a small building all its own, located in the center of the student parking lot. The adjacent building was the groundkeeper’s garage. This only exacerbated my sense of isolation and heightened my lack of motivation to do anything that resembled schooling.  At 17 or 18, I thought I would be committed to a life of physical labor in a town where my peers were setting their sights on Ivy League universities, med schools, and law schools.  I must admit that by the time I had finished high school, my philosophy of education was a raised middle finger and a giant yawn.

Owing to the deficiency of my education, I excelled in sports.  I was a star soccer player, a state champion gymnast, studied martial arts, rode bikes, skateboarded, played basketball and baseball, and pursued surfing with a passion.  I also compensated for my deficiencies in school with woodworking, handcrafts, and surfboard shaping.  The only pleasure I found in school was when I was in a Creative Design class.

Although my memory of all this is a bit faded or blocked out, I remember some things.  I remember people saying I had a learning disability in reading.  I remember the remedial courses and the special education classes.  I remember my mother taking me to tutors and I remember reading three of Shakespeare’s plays on my own and being upset in English class that the other kids weren’t getting it.  I remember reading Stevenson’s Kidnapped, and I also remember that if you had asked me if I had read any books, I would answer that I had never finished one from cover to cover. This doesn’t make sense to most people. Clearly I had read several books. The thing is, I didn’t equate the pleasurable experience I had with those books as “reading.” I could not connect the pleasure of Shakespeare with the pain of the “disability.” I thought of his writing as puzzles and finding the multitude of layers or levels of significance was a game. To me, reading was Reading, an academic subject that I was not “good” at, that included the humiliation of reading aloud and test questions, which would inevitably reiterate what everyone already knew, that I was a poor “reader.”

The label of “learning disabled” followed me into college.  It might seem strange that I would even bother to enroll in community college, considering how I felt about school.  But in the affluent town I grew up in, going to college was just the next step in education.  No more a voluntary choice than high school or elementary school.  So, the first year in community college I enrolled in typical General Education courses, but I could not seem to bring myself to attend class regularly.  I spent most of my time surfing and earning a little money making surfboards, interspersed with strong bouts of drinking.  After a short stint on Oahu where I realized the poverty I was heading toward, I decided to try school again.  Luckily I had the option to move back home and begin again at the local community college, Los Angeles Harbor College.  I started the semester planning to major in business, then switched to fire technology to become a fireman, but found myself failing again.  Then something really changed.

What changed?  At some point in my second attempt at community college, I found a friend who I wanted to impress and, more importantly, who would not allow me to belittle my own intelligence and capability.  We met in our Human Sexuality class. She sat in front of me. I was terribly shy. She was terribly smart. She would not accept nor believe the label of learning disabled.  She said to me, “Johnny, this is bullshit, for you to even think that you are disabled is bullshit.” Previously, I didn’t want to try in school because, as the saying goes, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”   I did not want to further prove to anyone what had been told to me already, that I was incapable of learning, that I was a disabled learner, but I began to think she saw something that I was blind to.

In one semester I went from earning C’s, D’s and F’s to earning straight B’s.  I tried harder the next semester, with more intent, and received straight A’s.  Suddenly, I wanted to see how far I could go.  I chose to rush my way to UC Santa Cruz.  I completed 22 semester units consecutively with straight A’s.  What changed?  What changed was that I understood the nature of the challenge, that I needed to make what I learned my own, not what some teacher told me.  In one history class, I remember that the teacher asked me to explain to the rest of the class how I managed to earn 100% on every test. The truth was, I didn’t have a secret trick to studying, I just liked learning about history. I had stopped caring about the class a long time ago, and had been scrutinizing history for my own sake. I didn’t skim the textbook, I read every word and even extended my reading to other books when a particular topic intrigued me. I learned that learning is mine, not some structured system’s ideal, not some measured quantity that can be compared to other students. Learning became a way of being, a way of looking with a yearning to know more. What changed was that learning became a pleasure, a pleasure of knowing and of succeeding, a delicious nectar.

At 19, I began to apply myself because applying myself made me feel good and earned me success.  Many years later, in hindsight, I realized that my learning disability was actually a dysfunction of the educational system that I had been subjected to.  I was unaware of the choices that were being made for me, choices that chained me to a designation.  Ironically, I also felt a bitterness in me when I began excelling in college.  I completed 22 consecutive semester units with straight A’s to say to all those who had said that I was incapable, “*%$# you.”  I chose to free myself from the chains that had held me back from achieving and wanted to prove to everyone that I was not only capable, but worthy of respect, which is also a freedom of sorts.

Over time, I found strategies to help me overcome the label of “learning disabled.” For one, I felt I had to teach myself to read and be “good” at Reading. My way of doing this was to force myself to read a newspaper from cover to cover every single day before I did anything else. Another strategy I used was to get a historical perspective on new subjects or topics because, as a learner, I felt the need to situate myself within the dialogue of that discipline in order to feel I could understand it at all. I was so successful at overcoming the label that I actually reached a point where people would be surprised when I told them that I had been in Special Ed.  Yet, inside, I can’t say that the label has been erased completely.  A deep-seated insecurity still bites at my heels.  This insecurity persisted through my Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Anthropology.  It followed me into the Master’s Degree program, where I pursued a line of study that I hoped would satisfy some of my questions:  Why do we have institutions of learning?  and Why is learning to write important?  In my Master’s Thesis, “Humanistic Attitudes: The Pursuit of Democracy in Literature and Education,” I explored answers to these questions and others that helped inform my pedagogy.

As a graduate student working toward an M.A. in English with an emphasis in Comparative Literature, I was no stranger to writing.  After all, I had earned two bachelor’s degrees in the most reading and writing intensive disciplines at my alma mater.  At San Diego State University, I was also successful.  So as I approached the completion of the program, I began to teach writing in the Rhetoric and Writing Program.

Despite my experience and accomplishments in writing, when my turn came to become a writing instructor, I felt a great deal of trepidation.   The trepidation came from an incomplete education, especially in writing.  Though I could pass any course, my writing was not strong.  It was often marked by long complex phrasings, enigmas, and constructed language puzzles that I thought a good and worthy reader should be able to decipher.  When I wrote, I wrote to “boggle” the mind.  My professors, to their immense credit, managed to find the innovative thoughts and encouraged further exploration and discussion, but they always remarked on my lack of clarity.  Having no real sense of the art of writing, I poked the complex thoughts out on paper and assumed that because I had interesting ideas and I could put them on paper, that they were bound to be a good read.

Many lessons in writing, surprisingly enough, originated from reading my students’ writing.  I could recognize the problems in my students’ papers because the texts I had been reading and studying for several years came from the best writers and thinkers.  As I identified my students’ problems and helped them strengthen their writing, I began to recognize the same problems in my own writing.  Ironically, it was the study of another language, Latin, that ultimately gave me a solid ground in grammatical skills. This improved my writing and my confidence tremendously and, furthermore, gave me an understanding of what grammar I needed to teach my writing students. In more than one student, I even came face to face with the same convoluted writing style that I had been using for years.  Being on the receiving end of writing that “lacked clarity” taught me to think of my audience when writing.  This was probably the most important lesson I learned in regards to writing.  My audience really needs me to construct clear sentences and to deliver my ideas clearly.  Clear writing actually does lend itself to good reading.  Who knew?

Nevertheless, in my first semester of teaching as a T.A. at San Diego State University, I felt a little uneasy about teaching writing because I had not fully internalized the process of writing myself.  My main concern, at the time, was to create a classroom environment that accomplished two main tasks.  The first task was to provide real knowledge of the skills of critical thinking (Rhetorical Literacy).  The second task was to provide practical knowledge of social disparities.  These ideas were influenced by the writings of Paulo Freire.  I had previously justified these concerns in an essay titled “Critical Thinking, Critical Conscience, and Academic Discourse.”  In this essay, I argue that the Freirian notion of “critical consciousness,” the “Libratory Education” (an awareness of real political power and oppression), could not be effective without employing the two tasks I mentioned simultaneously.

Yet, I was wholly dissatisfied with my approach after the first year, because I felt that there was something missing in my students.  Though many of them did well and responded positively to my instruction, I found many of them still lacked motivation (a yearning to learn).  From my own experience, I realized that what made me motivated was that I found a way to make school matter to me.  I sought ways to make school (and my English classes, in particular) matter to them.

To make things matter, it seems that my students need to see themselves as actors in their lives, that they gain a sense of where they are in the systems they are in. Thus my main strategy is to have them start reflecting on the purposes and value of education. When they can see what is expected of them in regards to the course, to themselves, and to the society at large, the students begin to see themselves as engaging in the shaping of our collective future. Responsibility for education becomes theirs and they elect it.

I have been for many years, and still am, a writing instructor.  The classes I teach are usually “remedial” although, of course, no one calls them that anymore.  My students are usually developmental writers, even though they are in college.  So you can see that, in some ways, I come from a similar educational space as my students.  Although my students come from a variety of experiences and backgrounds, many of them have something in common with me.  They have all been labeled in one way or another, and internalized the label, through their school experiences.  They are “A”, “B”, “C”, etc. students, they are “bright” or “slow,” they are “average,” “normal,” or “accelerated.”  They are “good” at math and “bad” at English or “good” at English and “bad” at math, and often times they say they are “bad” at both.  The problem with labels is that we feel compelled to live up to them.  It may seem counterintuitive to embrace a negative label, but I understand why some of my students do this. It’s like this. Maybe you loved baseball as a kid. So when your P.E. class played baseball, you were excited to participate. But in the first game, it becomes unpleasantly obvious that you have not developed the same level of eye-hand coordination as the others in your class. At the next P.E. class, teams are chosen by students, and you are the last one chosen. As it becomes clear to you that your favorite activity does not favor you, you are presented with several choices that come down to: You can try harder than anyone else and risk the possibility that you will never even be good at it. Or you can try not at all, not care at all, embrace a non-baseball-loving identity and perhaps even scorn the baseball lovers. High stakes on one side makes the other choice, usually, the more attractive. Regardless of whether the label is positive or negative, every student bears some kind of label that places an obstacle to their learning, an obstacle that prevents them from caring about the subject.

Another obstacle I have identified and been working on for the past four years is the students’ lack of understanding of the purpose of the educational system and their place within it.  For many students and many people, school is a means to an end.  The degree is the means to “get a good job.”  The classes are the means to the degree.  Getting a good (or better) job through higher education is a good reason to walk in the door and go through the paces, so getting a great job or well-respected job might motivate a bright student to get good grades.  But yearning to learn is something different.

Whenever I enter my classrooms at the beginning of a new semester, I realize that half of my job is to remove these obstacles.  I address these obstacles by exposing students to essays that help them understand the history of Academia and lead them to think critically about their own place within it and where that places them within the socio-political world.  We read “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato, “On the Education of Children” by Michel De Montaigne, and excerpts from writings by Freire, Nussbaum, and other pedagogical and non-pedagogical philosophers.  By the end of the course, many of my students say it is the best class they have ever taken.  Their final papers inevitably demonstrate that their confidence bears security and drive.

I realize now that I am fortunate to have had the experiences that I have had.  When I reflect on my educational story, I am reminded of what led me to become a teacher and the obstacles I removed along the way.  It is because of the experiences that I have that I can easily return to my earlier fears, fears that many of my students who are developmental writers, share as a result of our shared educational experiences.  If we, as writing instructors, can take the time to look past the labels and give each student a fresh start, we can resist and remove the labeling that derails the educational process for many of our students.  As a writing instructor, my development has been enhanced by an awareness that I am like my students and my students are like me.  Only this time, I am not going to allow the labels to get in the way of our learning.


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When Students Have No Advisors


When Students Have No Advisors

Posted September 17th at

I have been teaching for nearly 10 years at San Diego Mesa College in the English Department. I enjoy teaching, and I am thoroughly committed to students and to the mission of improving both their personal English skills and their ability to function in the world with others.  I have often taken initiative to createcommunity outreach programs. One program I created and ran for 4 years was a service learning writing project focused on community outreach to help align the curriculums between local high schools and community colleges.

Last semester, my students were reading and investigating food issues in the United States. There is overwhelming evidence that our food supply is contributing to the obesity epidemic, rising rates of allergies, and rising rates of diabetes, and that giant corporations are governing the public federal agencies of the USDA and the FDA as well as contributing heavily to lobbying for their advantage over the health of our children. My students researched and debated in class and in their writings about what roles kids, parents, corporations, and the government play in the obesity epidemic. After numerous discussions, the students decided that it would be a good idea to start a club that is focused on food issues to raise awareness and to empower the community through education. They went out and gathered signatures of fellow students who were interested in starting a food sustainability club. It was obvious that it was very popular and the students and myself understood that it would benefit the school, the students, and the larger community of San Diego.

It was impressive to see how motivated and inspired they became. I heard them talk about creating educational workshops that they could create on campus and to take to local grade schools. They spoke of “planting days” on campus and sharing knowledge about how to grow healthy organic produce.  They even thought of finding healthy alternatives to the cafeteria foods that are certifiably unhealthy. After the signatures and the brainstorming, it came time for the students to file the official papers to start the club. As their professor, I was honored that the ideas came from my class and that the students thought that I should be their advisor. I signed the papers and the student leaders of the club in waiting went to file them, and this is where the adjunct moment struck.

One of the highly motivated students leading the charge to start this club returned to my class looking a bit distraught.  I could see confusion and sadness in his expression as he approached me and told me that I could not be his advisor. He seemed to look at me like I was not qualified or that I had misled him. I was sort of taken aback. He proceeded to inform me that the administration does not allow adjunct faculty to be advisors to student clubs.  I thought it strange, and quickly, I was engulfed in the same confusion. I couldn’t understand why an instructor that has been teaching religiously at the institution for nearly 10 years could not serve as an advisor to a student club, a club that would bring value to the campus. Why on earth would the administration not want faculty to be more engaged and invested in the well being of the students, the campus, and the community?

I decided to investigate why adjuncts are barred from advising student clubs by approaching my dean. The dean was curious and had no answer for me, so he told me that he would investigate and get back to me.  Through my Dean I learned that the administration does not want adjunct faculty to be advisors because they do not want to have to compensate them for the time they serve the students. Adjunct instructors cannot have more than a 67% load, and adding time as an advisor is not permitted. I also learned through my dean that the school has had cases where an adjunct gained over 67% and it led to the full time hiring of that adjunct on technical contract grounds. The administration learned their lesson and closed the loophole that allowed adjunct faculty to gain full-time employment.  Thus, the administration, rather than helping students to flourish in leadership roles, finds it more prudent to keep adjunct faculty in their dead-end positions.  I learned that it doesn’t pay to be a good adjunct when trying to do the right thing for the students.

I offered to be an advisor as a volunteer, but the school is highly skeptical of such altruism and does not want to take a chance.  Learning that the school only wants me to be an expendable low paid instructor, I proceeded to do justice for the students and petition full-time faculty to be an advisor to the Food Sustainability Club.  None have stepped forth. The fact is that there are not enough full-timers anymore and full-timers are already stretch too thin with committees and classes that a student club that is highly needed and valuable to the students and the community is dying before it sees a day of life.

What happens when students no longer have advisors? The innovative leadership qualities these students demonstrate are callously circumvented by a unjust business model of education. The students suffer because their energies and intelligences are brushed off as unimportant. The school suffers the loss of prestige as the students no longer represent excellence, and the majority faculty remains powerless to improve their student’s, and their own exploited position. What happens when students don’t have advisors?  Firstly,  it creates a system where students remain passive and unengaged and professors give up on trying to herald a progressive education rounded fully in quality.  I hope that we can all see the negative consequences that come from the adjunctification of our institutions and see the dismantling of avenues for top end quality education. Student clubs are important to students and to all of us and to kill them through adjunctification is an abhorrent assault on our students and communities.

Some have said that you can see how the administration thinks of the students by how they treat their professors.

A Good Adjunct!

John. D. Rall



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Powerlessness in the Face of Heartlessness

Powerlessness in the Face of Heartlessness

It is now the end of Week 10 of the 16-week semester and I am reflecting on last year’s crisis and wondering if it will happen again this year. My Union representative has assured me that the problem has been taken care of, but I am afraid that a similar disaster will occur. Perhaps, I don’t understand how the union could solve the problem so easily since adjuncts are not really part of the bargaining agreement process.

Although the union has assured me,…

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Critical Consciousness, Critical Thinking, and Academic Discourse

Critical Consciousness, Critical Thinking, and Academic Discourse

in College Composition


By: John D. Rall. 2002


There are a number of reasons why I write this essay, but none so pressing as the fact that I must make a decision about the subject of teaching writing before I actually begin to teach writing.  Over the past 16 weeks, I have been studying theories and practices of teaching college composition.  The institution has requirements that instructors in one way or another must comply with.  In addition, we ourselves hope to provide the students with, at the bare minimum, the necessary preparation to enter into college academia.  It is obvious that our job is to teach or facilitate the learning of writing for our students, but how and what we teach can affect more than merely our students’ success in academia.  Hence, we approach teaching with agendas larger than the mere teaching of writing.  In most cases, our agendas are ideological and political. In other cases, though appearing to be benign and apolitical, our approach is nevertheless a reflection of what we, as instructors, think is important, and therefore is a statement reflecting our position in the debate between traditional and progressive education.  It is here that I would like to propose the need for an approach that is both traditional and progressive.  While researching Freirean pedagogical theory, I came to realize that there was something vitally important being overlooked by the Freirean approach, namely, the skills of critical thinking.  Though my opponents will argue that Freirean pedagogy is a form of critical thinking, I argue that it develops a critical consciousness of the social world, but it does not necessarily take care of all the details of traditional rhetoric.  In other words, while focusing on the social, it does not take time to focus on the details of argumentation, reasoning, evidence, and support, and hence does not in itself foster academic success in the university.  Therefore, coupled with the progressive education, we need to keep a traditional instruction of rhetoric.

The distinction between critical consciousness and critical thinking is a valuable distinction for a number of reasons.  We might construe the difference as that between what is useful and what is valuable.  The value, of course, is a moral or ethical one, and we can see that Freirean Pedagogy is undoubtedly an ethically valuable approach.  However, critical thinking models are also useful and there is no place more apparent than in academia.  “At a broad level, critical thinking and critical pedagogy share some common concerns.  They both imagine a general population in society who are to some extent deficient in the abilities or dispositions that would allow them to discern certain kinds of inaccuracies, distortions, and falsehoods”(Burbules and Berk 46).  Critical thinking and critical pedagogy are sometimes indistinguishable, but nevertheless the fine line of difference matters greatly to the teaching of writing, as I will demonstrate later.

Critical thinking is very much in tune with what we call “academic discourse.”  Academic discourse, like critical thinking, focuses on argumentation, supporting assertions, and evaluating evidence.  In many respects, both critical thinking and academic discourse have a common history associated with traditional rhetoric.  For a long time, education has focused on the idea of critical thinking.  “…It is woven throughout the Western tradition of education, from the Greeks to the Scholastics to the present day”(Burbukes and Berk 48).  The art of rhetoric was once associated exclusively with rules of logic and how to assess evidence and data to be used in argumentation.  It does not seem to be far off from a description of contemporary academic discourse, where thesis, organization, and evidence are important constituents of academic papers.  “The primary preoccupation of critical thinking is to supplant sloppy or distorted thinking with thinking based upon reliable procedures of inquiry”(Ibid 46).  It seems, therefore, that academic discourse is founded upon critical thinking or rhetorical maxims of rationality, logic, and reason.  “What the critical thinking movement has emphasized is the idea that specific reasoning skills undergird the curriculum as a whole; that the purpose of education generally is to foster critical thinking; and that the skills and dispositions of critical thinking can and should infuse teaching and learning at all levels”(Ibid 48).  The importance of critical thinking is crucial to the teaching of writing and academic writing in particular, for the aim is to teach students to communicate clearly and forcefully so their voices and ideas can be heard.  Critical thinking enables students to analyze what they themselves are saying and the strength of their assertions can be measured by the reasons and support that are offered.

Critical thinking, as an approach to teaching writing, is nothing new, and it goes without saying that the majority of college composition courses engage in the maxims of critical thinking and academic discourse.  It is not by coincidence that universities with Rhetoric departments place those departments in charge of developmental writing courses.  Those who argue for the usefulness of critical thinking often argue that it is a “set of generalized abilities and dispositions as opposed to content specific abilities…” (Burbeles and Berk 49).  However, there are opponents of the critical thinking school who argue that critical thinking is culturally biased in that it emphasizes the standards and rationality, “a particular masculine and/or Western mode of thinking, one that implicitly devalues other ‘ways of thinking’”(Ibid 49).  This same argument has been made in relation to the teaching of academic discourse.

Though supporting the teaching of academic discourse, Patricia Bizzell has had to defend herself against accusations of “inculcation”(Bizzell 27).  She has tried to demonstrate that the academic discourse can be used to foster critical consciousness in the Freirean sense.  “Basic writers are very much like Freire’s peasants. The basic writers cling to a personal perspective because ‘they feel more part of [their] world than transformers of the world’”(133).  By introducing the students to the academic discourse, students who take up the discourse empower themselves in the academic environment.  Bizzell states, “academic discourse can change the thinking of basic writers in much the same way that literacy, according to Paulo Freire, changes Brazillian Peasants”(19).  Literacy, for Freire’s peasants, was a means of empowerment and of gaining a voice, rather than allowing themselves to be spoken for by their oppressors.  The relationship between academic discourse to basic writers and literacy for the peasants is strong, for the basic writer, while attaining proficiency in academic discourse, finds that he/she is not merely capable of succeeding in the university but also has the ability to write cogently in the socio-political world he/she inhabits.  However, academic discourse does not necessarily lead to activism, but rather as Bizzell points out, “academic discourse outside the academy can issue in self-serving corporate policy statements, picayune legal documents…”(Bizzell 136).  Thus we see that academic discourse, while at once providing an opportunity for an empowered voice, does not necessarily lead to a critical consciousness in the Freirean sense, for “not only is the critical person adept at recognizing injustice but, for critical pedagogy, that person is also moved to change it”(Burbules and Berk 51).

Though critical pedagogy is often passed off as being equally capable of fostering critical thinking, it must be noted that critical thinking and Freirean “critical consciousness” are in many ways quite different.  Whereas critical thinking is focused on the logic and reason of assertions, critical consciousness is an awareness of the social aspect of one’s own life.  “In the language of critical pedagogy, the critical person is one who is empowered to seek justice, to seek emancipation”(Burbules and Berk 50).  Paulo Freire describes his approach in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as such: “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform”(31).  The power of critical pedagogy rests in its hope for social transformation, a transformation that takes place when the oppressed are empowered through education to see themselves as actors in the world.  Freire’s concern is to teach literacy to the “dispossessed” peasants of Brazil and Chile so that they can obtain power for themselves and liberate themselves from their oppressors.

One of the most difficult aspects of this pedagogical approach is applying it in the university, where the majority of students are privileged, white, and middle and upper class students.  Freire himself cautions the application or use of critical pedagogy by those who are not oppressed, “…the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressors.  It would be a contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only defended but actually implemented a liberating education”(36).  Whether the American academy is oppressive or not, the application of critical pedagogy has begun to take root and, in many instances, it has succeeded in giving a voice to the oppressed.  With the slow rise of minority students into the university system, critical pedagogy just might be the key to helping minorities create a community within the larger academic discourse community, helping them have a voice and changing the socio-political atmosphere that has oppressed them.  The issue of assimilation also causes problems if we are to look at education as a libratory function, for it seems counterintuitive to argue for liberation and promote assimilation into the university at the same time.  However, this is precisely what is taking place in universities around the nation.

Nevertheless, we do our students a disservice if we do not teach the practiced mode of communication.  In order for students to succeed in the university, they must become versed in academic discourse.  It seems that the quandary must be solved somehow.  Patricia Bizzell has argued forcefully that teaching academic discourse can be a libratory education in the Freirean sense, “Freire has linked the acquisition of formal education, if attained with help of a politically sensitive teacher, to the ability to see one’s world as the object of reflection and change”(131-132).  We can see that, for Bizzell, the only way academic discourse can contribute to the development of critical consciousness is with the help of a “politically sensitive instructor.”  The popularity of critical pedagogy in the United States stems in part from the fact that there is a great deal of educators out there struggling to give students a liberal education.  There are many examples of politically sensitive teachers of writing applying Freire’s educational philosophy.  For instance, Joseph Harris and Jay Rosen propose, in the essay “Teaching Writing as Cultural Criticism,” that “our first concern is with how to teach students to write as critics of their culture, to reflect on those discourses—of home, school, church, media, work, neighborhood, and so on—of which they are part”(58).  This is a good example of a method that would bring about critical consciousness.  The students are asked to think critically about the their lives and the relations between the institutions they participate in and explicate their experiences in writing.  It appears that instructors can teach writing at the same time as teaching students to become aware of the socio-political context of their lives, i.e. to gain a critical consciousness in the Freirean sense.

However, by teaching the academic discourse to our students there is the implication that one discourse, the academic discourse, is the only viable discourse in the academics and that this discourse must become the discourse through which the student’s voice must be heard.  The student, then, is “either working inside the constraints of a certain community or remaining outside its projects and concerns—and to be outside is to be nowhere at all, with no real chance of being heard”(Harris and Rosen 59).  But does teaching students to think critically about their social environment foster a critical thinking about writing in general?  Does it empower the student in academia to be able to be critical about the world outside of academia?  How do we as instructors reconcile the difference between critical thinking and critical consciousness in the classroom? Do we assume that teaching academic discourse will provide the necessary critical thinking skills to enable students to analyze and produce cogent arguments or can we assume that raising critical consciousness in our students will produce a critical awareness of argumentation?  In a certain sense, critical consciousness fosters a type of critical thinking, but critical thinking is limited to the social world and does not connect to academia easily.  Therefore, I argue that we need to teach our students critical thinking skills along with developing critical consciousness.

Martha Reineke has revealed one example of how this might be accomplished in her compilation “Ten Strategies for Active Learning.”  One of the strategies that I found most conducive to teaching both critical thinking and critical consciousness is under the section titled “Debates.”  Debates are a fantastic way of encouraging students to bring social issues into the class and discuss them with the tools of critical thinking.  Through this method, students not only come to understand the function of academic discourse as a persuasive discourse, but they also begin to think critically about their social environment, for the topics of the debate can be anything concerning the students’ personal experiences.  “Although debates work well with controversial issues, they also can be used successfully with any set of statements relevant to a class topic”(Reineke).  Furthermore, the success of a debate format, on top of joining together critical thinking and critical consciousness, creates a dialogue between opposing sides of any issue.  It also requires students to challenge their own assumptions, allowing them to see the strengths and weaknesses of their command of both the issue and the format of communication critically.  Dialogue is one of the main goals of critical pedagogy.  “Cultural action for freedom is characterized by dialogue, and its preeminent purpose is to conscientize the people”(Freire 47).  Another aspect of debate as a strategy for active learning is that it challenges the traditional power structure associated with Freire’s “banking education,” for it empowers the students to teach each other how to communicate clearly and forcefully.  Also, since it engages the students actively, the instructor becomes merely a mediator, rather than an authority figure.  Often ethical and social issues can be debated without reference to authorities at all, for authority rests not with individuals but in the dialogue and the conclusions the dialogue comes to.  And yet, dialogue is never closed.  New points can always be made; thus, students can continually raise objections or provide more evidence to support their view.  Debates can also be researched-based, giving students an opportunity to practice incorporating evidence and evaluating its strengths and weaknesses.

Critical thinking and critical consciousness differ in their primary focus.  If we construe one as “useful” and the other as “valuable,” then we will see that one is concerned with the practicality of knowledge, while the other is valuable for moral and ethical living.  We obviously want our students to be capable of succeeding inside classrooms and outside classrooms.  By teaching both critical thinking and critical consciousness, we help develop critical scholars and critical citizens both of which contribute to a fuller potential of humanity.  This should be our goal as educators and, more specifically, as teachers of writing.


Works Cited


Bizzell, Patricia. Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992.

Burbules, Nicholas C. and Berk, Rupert. “Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy: Relations, Differences, and Limits.” Critical Theories in Education: Changing Terrains of Knowledge and Politics. Eds. Thomas S. Popkewitz and Lynn Fendler. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum Pub. Co., 1993.

Harris, Joseph and Rosen, Jay. “Teaching Writing as Cultural Criticism.” Composition and Resistance. Eds. Mark Hurlbert and Michael Blitz. Portsmouth: Bayton/Cook, 1991.

Reineke, Martha J. “Ten Strategies for Active Learning” Cedar Falls: Reineke University of Northern Iowa. August 1998. RWS 609 Course Reader. Prof. Boyd. San Diego State University, Fall 2001.

Freedom and Foucault: The Post-postmodern Enlightenment


from: “Huministic Attitudes: The Pursuit of Democracy in Literature and Education”

–by John D. Rall 2004


Anti-humanism, as a philosophy, contends with the concept of agency in many different ways, but the Foucaultean power/knowledge ethic is a particularly popular ethic that has gained power in academia and which many contemporary literary critics have heralded.   M. H. Abrams echoes Michel Foucault’s concept of human agency when he says: “…the human individual does not exert power but is ‘an effect of power’ who is ‘constituted’ by power and ‘at the same time its vehicle’” (20).  If we apply this to literature, we come to the following conclusions: (1) The author is not an agent (writer) writing, but rather is an effect of power and thus does not write nor convey meaning by choice, (2) the author and his works are merely sites of constituting discourses, (3) the reader is not an agent reading, but is constituted by power, (4) the reader does not conceive meaning but receives meaning, and (5) meaning is received only to the extent that the reader has been conditioned by power/knowledge to receive it.  In other words, a text is not produced by an individual for an individual.  On the contrary, a text and all the people involved with it are products of discourse and are determined or constituted by discourse.  Thus, there is no freedom or agency and we are merely agentless sites.  Furthermore, the extent of our determination appears to be absolute.  However, Foucault’s philosophy, it seems, is not so absolute.  His thesis of power still contains a space for freedom, a space where the agent has liberties.  As we proceed, it will become evident that Foucault conceives of this space as the “voluntary choice made by certain people” to take up an attitude, a philosophical ethos, or a freedom.  We can reconcile these apparently contradictory readings of Foucault by understanding Foucault’s conception of “attitudes.”  It is with this concept that we see freedom as a space for agency.

A number of commentators on Foucault’s life and works have remarked that in his later years Foucault shifted his philosophical focus.  For instance, while assessing Foucault’s late lectures concerning the concept of “danger” in regards to “parrhesia” or “truth-speaking,” Paul Rabinow observes a shift in Foucault’s focus on power.  Rabinow remarks that, “Foucault presented a view of power and freedom as coextensive.  Power relations depend on freedom of action,” and he quotes Foucault’s assertion that “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only in so far as they are free” (206).  Here, in opposition to Abram’s anti-humanist concept of agency, Foucault pays more attention to the idea of freedom.  Foucault asserts a freedom that is necessary for power to be exercised.  This shift occurring in Foucault’s work does not dismiss his traditional analysis of power per se, but rather he brings forth in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” a proposal for a historical, methodological, and philosophical ethic or attitude, an  “ethos” that will investigate freedom and be a practice of freedom.  The shift, which has been characterized as a shift toward ethics, transforms the traditional view of ethics (the study of ethical standards), into a view of ethics as “attitudes” or perspectives through which we relate to reality.

In Foucault’s text, he refers to Kant’s essay on enlightenment “Was ist Auflkärung?” to find some kind of reconciliation, an ethics or an ethos, which characterizes an ethical-political critique of the present.  Though Foucault returns to Kant and the question of agency in his own essay on enlightenment, at times he responds with the staple Foucaultean defiance by shifting Enlightenment into a historical context.  In a historical context, enlightenment becomes “The Enlightenment,” a specific event, a specific occurrence that has consequences: “What then is this event that is called the Aufklärung and that has determined, at least in part, what we are, what we think, and what we do today” (32).  Although the thesis of Power, which Foucault investigates in the genealogies of Power, requires him to repeat the mantra of determination, the words “at least in part” reveal a subtle but definite space for indeterminacy or freedom.  While we may read Foucault’s “at least in part” as a space meant for other discourses to fill (in determining the subject), perhaps it represents a hesitation on Foucault’s part to carry out his thesis of power all the way.  In “What is Enlightenment?” Foucault characterizes Kant’s enlightenment as a “way out” and his own methodological proposal articulates the same possibility of an “exit.”  Yet Foucault is also attempting to find where his own philosophy rests in relation to a specific question, a question he attributes to Kant and which he sees confronting nearly all philosophers since Kant’s time: “From Hegel through Nietzsche or Max Weber to Horkheimer or Habermas, hardly any philosophy has failed to confront this same question, directly or indirectly”(Foucault 32).  Although the title of both essays is the same question, it is not the real question, according to Foucault.  The question Foucault attempts to come to terms with is: What is “the relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason” which emerges with Kant? (Foucault 32).

We might get a better understanding of Foucault’s concern with this relationally linked triad of “will,” “authority,” and “the use of reason,” if we examine a little closer Kant’s text “Was ist Aufklärung?”.  According to Kant, the motto of enlightenment is “Sapere aude!  ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’” (Kant 85)  This motto, addressed to the Will (agency) is a humanistic attitude aimed at the goal of prevailing.  It comes in the form of a dare.  The courage to know must arise from within the individual, a willing self that thinks on its own.  For Kant the Will exists only in “Sapere aude!”  So long as the Will does not answer to this dare or challenge, humans will remain in a state of tutelage and “Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another” (Kant 85).   The courage that the Will must have is courage to become independent, courage to escape Authority (power).  Now the relationship between Will and Authority becomes apparent when we see enlightenment as Kant defines it, as a “release from his self-incurred tutelage” (Kant 85).  It is self-incurred in the sense that an agent is not acting but obeying—that is, the individual willingly abides by expected standards without questioning why.

From a Foucaultean ethic of power, we can argue that Will and Authority are opposed to one another, each either gaining or ceding power.  Generally, the former dominates and the latter is oppressed, and at times so oppressed that the Will cannot actually exist.  The Will, as distinctly opposite Authority, is in a constant power struggle, so long as the Will meets the dare.  If the Will does not attempt to be self-sufficient, to meet the dare, it is not struggling for power and therefore cannot be free.  We can now see why Foucault asserts that “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free,” for in order for power to be exercised it must have an opponent to exercise itself against, a resistance coming from free individuals who meet the challenge of “Sapere aude!”

Although Will and Authority are key concepts in understanding Kant’s enlightenment, what is more important to Foucault is Kant’s rendition of the phrase “use of reason,” the third element in the relationally linked triad.  In Kant’s proposal of “public” and “private use of reason” he argues that “the public use of reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men” (Kant 87).   Now this freedom is premised on the idea that public reason embodies the form of scholarship.  Scholarly (public) use of reason is synonymous with criticism and as such, it is a public duty to express freely criticisms of public concern.  Furthermore, the public use of reason, Kant argues, is a “duty as a citizen, when as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts on the inappropriateness or even injustices” in the public/political world (Kant 87).  Using the scholar as a representative of this type of freedom or “use of reason,” forces us to distinguish a scholar from a non-scholar and by extension freedom from non-freedom.  The scholar-citizen engages in criticism, an art of thinking for oneself, which is Kant’s explication of the process and goal of enlightenment.  Furthermore, in the context of Critique of Pure Reason, we can see that Kant’s conception of reason is specific in relation to the scholar; it is a methodological reason with traditional logical/rhetorical roots, a weighing of possibilities that distinguishes a scholar from a non-scholar, the enlightened from the unenlightened, and the free from the determined.  This presents us with a scholar who is reasonably knowledgeable in regards to freedom or the use of reason, for the scholar is an agent that is already in the process of becoming independent from authority and thus has come to see a “way out,” a possible escape (freedom) from authority.

In contrast to the public use of reason, Kant also presents us with the “private use of reason.”  This form of the use of reason is limited, but not without freedom.  Kant describes the private use of reason as “…that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him” (86).  The private use of reason as a freedom is different from the public scholarly freedom, but by the very use of the phrase “use of reason,” we can see that Kant suggests that a freedom does exist within occupational fields.  However, Foucault remarks that in regards to the private use of reason: “…there cannot be, here, any free use of reason” (36).  This means that the scholar cannot practice a critique in the private sphere or there is no room for scholarly critiques because the occupational setting does not foster scholarly criticism.

Independence, freedom, or scholarly use of reason appear to be impossible in the strict realm of occupational work, for each individual is a member of a group of laborers who are contracted to carry out the wishes of the authority, their bosses.  The employee obeys and carries out the wishes of the authority that are the requirements of his or her post.  Thus, we might agree with Foucault’s statement, if we agree that there is no freedom in the workplace, that employees have neither agency nor an ability to use their reason in a scholarly manner.  However, if we recall Foucault’s statement that “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only so far as they are free,” it seems as though Foucault contradicts himself (Rabinow 206).  According to this statement, the agent must freely choose to obey an authority in the occupational setting if the authority is to have power over the employee.  In other words, if the agent is not free as an employee then there cannot be a power oppressing the employee into servitude.  However, Foucault’s denial of freedom in the occupational realm is a result of his lack of interest in the private use of reason, for Foucault restricts his concern of the phrase “use of reason” to the public scholarly use, which is an ethic, an attitude, and a pursuit of freedom.  But let us examine the real difference between Kant and Foucault by looking closely at the private use of reason.

It is evident that a civic or occupational job narrowly defines one’s use of reason independent of authority.  A job does not necessarily challenge the mind to be free, for the employee is not usually a scholar critiquing the “inappropriateness or injustices” of the job publicly before his employers and fellow employees.  Also, the occupational setting does not teach or foster independence.  On the contrary, occupational settings function most efficiently when the employees do not think for themselves.  It is not the employee’s obligation, duty, or expectation to be a scholar in his or her occupational role.  However, Kant suggests that the use of reason (freedom) might be used in the private sphere.  While an occupation does require limitations, it does not follow that an employee cannot politicize the environment (through unions etc…), nor will the employee be absolutely determined in his private use of reason.  The employee may resist the authority of the employers and think independently while carrying out an obeisance.

There are a number of critics of Foucault and anti-humanism, who argue that agency (freedom) abides in all realms of life.  Let us connect Michel de Certeau’s “Tactics of Consumption” with Kant’s private use of reason.  These tactics are, “…the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong, thus lending a political dimension to everyday practices” (XVII).   De Certeau’s tactics illustrate the subtle ways that agents refuse to be entirely determined by power.  For example, even in occupational fields, the agent finds a way to subvert power by doing personal non-job related activities while on the clock.  However, the political dimension that de Certeau observes is different from the political dimension Kant and Foucault define. For de Certeau, subtle tactics that alter the political dimension are such things as using scissors to open a file cabinet or using a shoe to pound a nail.  Simply by using a product in a manner not meant by the authority (in these examples, the manufacturer) one subtly uses one’s freedom, redefining the political power structure.  For Kant and Foucault, however, this is not public political freedom.  Though these tactics seem to be a freedom within the limits (private use of reason), they lack political intention and do not effect purposeful change.  Therefore, the scholarly use of reason is very different from the private use, in that one is based in the traditional Kantian conception of “reason,” while the other is unscholarly and ill-formulated.  A more precise difference can be seen in Foucault’s observation that Kant uses the German word “räsonieren” to describe the public use of reason: “…räsonieren is to reason for reasoning’s sake” (Foucault 36).  Reason for reason’s sake then can be seen as the particular agenda of freedom (freedom for freedom’s sake), an attitude whereby freedom is practiced.

The political dimension of public scholarly critique is at the center of Foucault’s historical agenda as an attitude akin to Kant’s attitude of enlightenment.  Foucault presents the freedom of enlightenment as an attitude which practices libratory reasoning.  Furthermore, Foucault’s concern with the use of reason centers on the public use.  Thus, his failure to recognize the private freedom comes from his reluctance to focus on private freedom.  His reluctance is not an oversight; Foucault’s agenda is concerned with reasoned liberation and not tactics of resistance—that is, Foucault is concerned with liberating the self from authority once and for all.  By examining the public use of reason, Foucault is looking for a new method of investigating history that will foster freedom, be an exercise or practice of freedom, and function as a tool for reasoning possible escapes from authority.  The new analysis he develops implies agency and self-fashioning action “…toward what is not or is no longer indispensable for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects” (43).  It is evident that Foucault’s subtle shift from “what has determined us” to “what do we need and what do we not need to determine us,” signifies a shift toward the will and a conception of freedom, use of reason, and an attitude of escape.  Using this methodology, Foucault would have us willfully discard the dispensable authorities by means of a historical analysis premised on practical rationality.  Thus, Foucault pragmatically approaches power through agency by examining where the spaces for possible escapes from authority exist.


Abrams, M. H. “What is a Humanistic Criticism?” The Emperor Redressed. Ed. Dwight Eddins. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995. 13-44

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.

Foucault, Michel. “What is Enlightenment?” The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow Pantheon: New York, 1984. 32-50.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.

Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?.” Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959. 85-92.

Norris, Chris. “’What is Enlightenment?’: Kant According to Foucault.” The Cambridge Companion to Foucault. Ed. Gary Gutting. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 159-97.

Rabinow, Paul. “Modern and Countermodern: Ethos and Epoch in Heidegger and Foucault.” Cambridge Companion to Foucault. Ed. Gary Gutting. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 194-214.

Evil Students and Standardization


There is a constant anxiety that eats at me about Education, learning, and schools. I feel I have no choice but to live with the contradiction of knowing what is right, but having to serve what I know is wrong.  The wellness of our grade schools is diseased by an overtly corporate culture that teaches consumption and employment as the end-all of learning. The freedom to pursue higher education is constricted by costs and class divisions. The richest in finances often have the means to attain the best minds, though not all the best minds are wealthy.  We trash good minds of the poor and our institutions function to keep a status quo of the haves having and the have-nots not having, especially in Obama’s Race to the Top (RTT).  This uncivilized condition, this focus on ignoring the facts that  we are seeing a grotesque devaluation of the working class, this greed for capital to flex power over markets and reign the consumers under a yoke of servitude to credit debt is destroying the American Democratic principles through an erosion of citizen capabilities.

We are well trained to stand in lines when the teacher blows the whistle. By the time we get to college, we have controlled our impulses and curiosity in order to sit passively and take orders from a professor.  I see the students struggling in English class with the mere request that there be a community of learners sitting in a circle facing each other and helping one another to participate in learning.  They struggle to engage themselves because of the unconscious scars that grade schooling had inflicted on their learning minds. They fear speaking, sharing their writing.  They fear looking on their own and realign their desks into nice neat rows. Many fear failure as if one test or one class was the make it or break it test or class of their future success-filled life.  They cringe in real anxiety about following orders so much so that they have passed the class while failing to learn.

We have come to see students as lowly and base creatures, while telling them that student-hood is a magically mystical experience.  We negate their natures and favor the stick over the carrot, imprisoning them in rules, policing them, and punishing them for not cooperating.  Stickers as rewards are replaced with pizza parties or field trips. If you are good you might get an early or longer recess from the confinement.  Later, the rewards are a well paying job, but you must be patient and sacrifice time, finances, and wit. The job is there waiting for you. You cannot live without it, so go to school and submit.

Are students good or evil?

We send our children to school to get them out of our hair, so we can work. We shuttle them out everyday while looking at a clock to make sure they spend the requisite time in age segregated facilities in the custody of the authorities who meet out punishment to discipline compliance and conformity to mediocrity (in the original derivation). This is all wrong, but I teach and I am expected to act as though my students need me to be the authority, to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do as if they were incapable of going and doing it on their own. I wonder whether students would go study for themselves. Is it possible that a student could seek knowledge without coercion?  Why do we assume they need to be schooled to learn? It is like we think that students are lazy, unmotivated, and downright corrupt and that teaching them is forcing them to do what we tell them to do. “Go to school! Sit down! Be Quiet! Don’t touch Jimmy! Face forward! Raise your hand! Go to the bathroom when I say!

So students have become evil rebels resisting the teacher’s orders to any extent that they can. They come to resist school and learning and say things like, “I don’t want to go!” or  “I don’t like school.”     We justify our forcing the youth into classrooms because we see that they do not like school. Many complain that they don’t like English (reading, writing, and speaking),  the very thing that allows them to have consciousness and all the pleasures of their world. It seems they see no value in it, except the basics for a job. If there is no grade that will help them to get a job, then learning is tedious and distracts us from the superbowl party. It is an obstacle to our pleasure because school is not about fun, it is about following orders, and we all know that.

We create the dislike and then force them to sit still and take their medicine. Unfortunately, the medicine that we are forcing them to take is the very medicine that forces them to rebel.   It is circular logic on poor suppositions. The supposition that students do not want to learn is a tragic falsehood that is taken as a truth to justify crushing students under inhumane standardization, the factory model of education. If you left us with confidence in ourselves to pursue what we want with understanding and encouragement, we will ingest a great deal more knowledge and be all the wiser for it.  Sadly, I can  hear the detractors repeating the false premise, that students don’t learn unless they are forced or schooled.

I  think we would all know much more than we do if we are in charge of our own learning. 12 years of grade school and most students have not learned to read, write, and think for themselves. They passively wait for the teacher to show them, but they don’t do it for themselves. All the information and lessons are on the internet, but they insist on paying and following orders to have a piece of “credit” without realizing that much of the credit is useless without the actual knowledge.  We should say to students, “You can avoid the (de-)grading school and learn things more fully if you follow your passions. You can learn anything and everything you want and we will help, now go figure what you want to know!”

Our schools have blinded our students to the pleasure of mastery. We have distilled pleasure out of learning and bottled  in the classroom apathetic spirits. In the classroom there is an intoxication occurring in the children. They are intoxicated by the social race to become the next definition of happy, successful consumers with appropriate apparel to legitimately claim that they’re profitable and fashionable, but what they are conforming to is the power structure that propagates the circular logic on poor suppositions. “Get in line you lazy, good for nothing students! How dare you think for yourself, we will teach you!”

Shakespearean spirits pour from our teachers, but the students are drinking at the labels of their classmates’ shirts, inebriated with measuring their self on material objects. We attend the libations of materialism because we are told that to be without material things is to be in an unhappy place.  We are bullied by corporate influences into delivering our children into the hands of the state to be bullied into teaching our children that money is success and things are the way you show it.  Our bullies no longer have to lay hands on us, rather they lay schools on us while they deliver punishing blows to children who are resisting the despotic control of their lives. Today, it is standards that the government lays on us to make us all equal by crippling the enabled by shifting resources.  The most obedient state to the Federal Governments’ measures is the winner in the race to make us measurably alike with the same standards of Obama’s  Race to the “Money” (Top). If we race to the money, we will create whatever standards look profitable. This is the nature of standardized tests. We no longer trust ourselves with our children’s education. We now trust the government to know what good education is and to dictate who has it and who doesn’t by competing for money on elements that have little to do with with students’ knowledge and capabilities.

We have decided to force a structure and drug the kids or abuse their psychs so they can fit into a business model of education. It appears we can’t do otherwise as the demands of capital requires us to labor so much so that we can have little time to parent, little time to explore and interact with various experts, little time to share, little time for student questions,  and little time for genuine community. The word school originally came from the Ancient Greek is “skhole” and was defined as leisure. Our schools are the opposite. We say,  “Hurry through to get to the job and ignore the values of everything else!” We are rushed from class to class and rushed into careers in the name of progress and profit. We all know our cultural messages.  Besides, we don’t have skhole, leisure. We have confinement to a preset measurement of labor time, it is 9 to 5 or the 8 hour day, 40 hour week. Our schools are timed to this measure, and if we are not timed, we may not have the production of commodities for industry and corporate development. We are led to believe that the factory model is the optimal.

We have turned to an education lead by corporations, rather than an education led by the family or the community.  We have administrative bloat choking the development of organic learning environments by applying their business model degrees to the “business of education.”  We must see that the corporate model creates a prejudice against the ADHD students and encourages over medication of students for the economic benefit extended to the pharmaceutical industry and as a warning the the normal students what will happen if they don’t follow the rules.

We have boiled our students down to measurable numbers and cut out the immeasurable arts that challenge us to see differently and test differently. We are doing this so we can govern schools like a business, rather than developing the apprenticeships and mentoring (the relationships) that is the praxis of education.  We are doing this in the name of economics. Students must be forced to endure the prison of age segregated classrooms, because we do not believe that we are capable of learning without schools. However, we know this truth, “Teachers can be found everywhere and students find themselves learning when the knowledge coincides with their interests and their interests can be much broader and deeper than the curriculum of schools.” But, our society echoes the argument that students will not learn without a system of schooling that forces them.

A history of literacy will show that schools have diminished the motivation of students to engage the thinkers of our time. A history of American education will show an increasing trajectory of  disciplining compliance to the institution’s dictates in the name of an assembly line production of labor.  We force students to be cogs because they will not choose it of their own. It is in our nature to select freedom, so schools are necessary to make us unfree.


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