Today, Mike asked us to critique Dr. Shor’s classroom as if we were an administrator who got a complaint that his classroom was too political. The anecdote was an excerpt from “First Day of Class: Passing the Test.” I would post a link, but it is only available to me in hard copy.
Time to put my administrator hat on.
Dr. Shor’s class is very political. I don’t deny that. However, education is political—that is the nature of it. Everyone comes into the classroom with their own set of beliefs. It is impossible to dodge that. Regardless of whether you are teaching a math class, a drama class, or an English class, your beliefs are going to seep into your teaching. The same goes for your students; their opinions and beliefs are going to seep into whatever they do too.
Dr. Shor is very wise to not suppress these beliefs. It is impossible to hide from them, so why not engage these beliefs as a platform for teaching the course. By doing so, he can engage all learners—after all, everyone has an opinion—and dig deeper into the curriculum.
Interestingly, Dr. Shor was using the discussion in class to teach the curriculum. Part of being a good writer is an ability to analyze, see different points of views, make a succinct argument, and justify your thoughts. I don’t see any other way to teach such skills other than by raising political issues that clearly have many available views to discuss as a class.
Many of the topics Dr. Shor discussed were controversial, such as abortion, teen pregnancy, etc. I can understand why some students might find this sort of discussion uncomfortable or inappropriate. Some might even find them offensive. A lot of these issues have the potential to be very personal to each student. It is impossible to find a topic with two sides to it that couldn’t possibly have any links or ties to students’ personal lives. However, Dr. Shor never forced any students into a discussion. Yes, he encouraged them, but he never forced them. Part of what makes a good class discussion and debate is that people tend to be emotionally invested in the topics. Having that personal frame of reference enables students to really connect with the topic, rather than doing some superficial research that they don’t care about only to present it one day and forget it the next. I commend Dr. Shor on beginning the class talking about the standardized test–it enabled his students to open up and share in a safe environment. They were sharing about something that they were passionate about and had a personal connection to. Doing so set the stage for his class to be a safe place for sharing.
Being political in class is inherent. Being outwardly political in class has its time and its place. Dr. Shor found that time and place. He created a safe learning environment, and he saw his students succeed. I see nothing wrong with his approaches and I will continue to support him.
What do you think?