February 14th, 2008

Beyond the Basics


I’m reading such an interesting book about teaching: Michael Newman’s Teaching Defiance: Stories and Strategies for Activist Educators. I already did a piece about it in a recent issue of the newsletter, but I’m interviewing Michael for a Magna Online Seminar in April (for information, see www.magnapubs.com/calendar/194.html), and for that I need to do a careful, thoughtful read of the book.

I so like the book because it isn’t focused on techniques. It’s not a how-to-teach book. I don’t have anything against that kind of book. Because most of us have so little preparation for teaching, we need books that help us get a handle on the basics. But how many do we need? And can we expect to grow and develop as teachers if we never get beyond the instructional manuals?

I’m not sure I agree with everything in the book, and I’m not sure all of it applies when your learners are 18- to 23-year-old undergraduates, but he makes some very interesting points about the larger purposes of education—those more noble ends related to social justice, equality, and, indeed, a better world. It’s a book that encourages you to stop looking at what you’re doing in class tomorrow and think about where this kind of education is taking your students.

Here’s how he describes the mission of teachers: “Our job is to help people become truly conscious, understand the different worlds we live in, and develop a morality in the face of the evident amorality of our universe. It is to teach people how to make up their own minds, and how to take control of their moment. It is to teach choice. It is to help ourselves and others break free from our pasts, plan for the futures we want and resist the futures we do not want.” (p. 10)

Whether or not you agree with this purpose, it is so uplifting to get beyond the basics and rethink the purpose that drives our daily efforts.