Slice of Life: Somewhere in America

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I learned something really interesting about myself this week at the New England Association of Teachers of English annual conference. Sometimes we miss out on interesting educational theory tools after we’re in the classroom (which is a pity). However, I’m not sure that’s a good excuse for me because in this case, I’m pretty sure these theories have been around for a while. Developed by Michael Stephen Schiro in his book Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns, the Curriculum Ideologies Inventory is a tool you can use to determine how you approach the curriculum. There are four different ideologies he discusses:

  • The Scholar Academic believes a “teacher’s job is to transmit information deemed to be important by the academic discipline.”
  • The Learner-Centered teacher believes a “teacher’s job is to see children as individuals and provide opportunities for them to make meaning of their own experiences.”
  • The Social Efficiency teacher believes a “teacher’s job is to prepare students with skills they will need in the future to be productive members of society.”
  • The Social Reconstructionist teacher believes a “teacher’s job is to push students to interpret the past, present, and future in order to reconstruct and create a more just world.”

This tool may not be new to you, but I hadn’t seen it before. I was a little bit surprised by my results, but not entirely. I scored highest, uniformly and without a single deviation, as a Social Reconstructionist teacher, meaning issues of social justice are at the forefront of what I do in the classroom.

I found this interesting paragraph at Oregon State’s Philosophical Perspectives in Education:

Social reconstructionism is a philosophy that emphasizes the addressing of social questions and a quest to create a better society and worldwide democracy. Reconstructionist educators focus on a curriculum that highlights social reform as the aim of education. Theodore Brameld (1904-1987) was the founder of social reconstructionism, in reaction against the realities of World War II. He recognized the potential for either human annihilation through technology and human cruelty or the capacity to create a beneficent society using technology and human compassion. George Counts (1889-1974) recognized that education was the means of preparing people for creating this new social order.

You can also read more about this philosophy here.

As a beginning teacher, I can’t say I had enough models of this kind of philosophy, so it took me some time to develop my approach to teaching, but if I examine which books I read in my early education courses that spoke most to me, it’s obvious I was always thinking along these lines: Dewey’s Experience & Education, Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, Trillin’s An Education in Georgia.

Quite possibly anyone who has examined my American literature curriculum is unsurprised by this result. My colleagues at work certainly affirmed it sounded like me. One of the reasons I threw out chronological teaching of American literature is that I wanted to focus on social justice, and all the themes and essential questions I created for that course tied back to ideas about social justice, from starting with Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” and reading the voices of Americans to understanding the pervasiveness of the American Dream and who gets cut out of achieving it with The Great Gatsby. If I were teaching American literature this year, you can bet my students would be writing about the NFL controversy around “Taking a Knee” in connection with Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and the writings of MLK and John Lewis.

Time to admit something. I haven’t actually read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Yet. I just ordered it. I feel ready to embrace my identity as a Social Reconstructionist now that I know I am one. Might also be time to dust off my Dewey. No wonder Henry David Thoreau is one of my most important teachers.

Which leads me to a final thought. If these young women were my students, I would have felt I had been a successful teacher.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

8 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Somewhere in America”

  1. What an interesting tool! I bet I’m a mix of a few of those…
    Love especially the Take a Knee… and getting our students to think about what could make this world more just.

  2. This is very interesting. I taught editing to undergraduate and graduate journalism students for about 20 years, and my teaching style was a cross between learner-centered and social reconstructionism. I wanted the students to learn out how to think and editing against bias was an important part of the class. There’s a lot of good reading in your post.

  3. While I don’t teach American lit, I always find your blog posts inspiring and revelatory for my own teaching. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I actually am not teaching it this year either. It was not my first love in terms of literature, but it has grown on me over the last 20 years or so. I have taught the course frequently.

  4. Thank you so much Dana for sharing your teaching philosophy! I haven’t used the Curriculum Ideologies Inventory tool you wrote about but I imagine my teaching ideology could best be categorized as “learner-centered” combined with “social reconstructionist” philosophy. I want to help my students develop their voice so they can use it to affect change in their lives and the lives of those around them. I also feel it is my duty to teach them the skills needed to critically analyze both historical and contemporary events so they can become agents of change. It’s so good to see a fellow teacher being so thoughtful about what drives their practice! I also loved your take on throwing out chronological order teaching in order to focus on social justice through different themes found in the novel itself. I think this is something I want to try in my own classroom!

    1. I think if you Google Schiro curriculum ideology, you can find the instrument I used. I don’t have permission to reproduce it here, but it is available online. We all need to be thoughtful about what drives our practice. I would never go back to teaching American literature chronologically again. My students learned so much more with a thematic approach.

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