Decolonizing teacher’s minds

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, July 18 2013, 10:18 AM
In bracing themselves for the new academic year this month, school teachers are filled with angst, mainly due to the uncertainty in how the new 2013 curriculum can be viably implemented in classrooms.

As a result of the national curriculum revamp, these angst-ridden teachers are confronted with the new textbooks and teaching materials they need to read and prepare, new methods of teaching that they ought to use and new assessment techniques they need to design. Still, they are compelled to understand the new curricular guidelines that dictate (at the philosophical level) how these classroom-related aspects need to be translated and operated.

For many teachers, following its endorsement by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the 2013 curriculum has brought about a curse rather than a blessing.

And it has since been condemned rather than commended. Yet, for those advocating the change in the education system, curriculum constitutes one of the vital educational elements than must be overhauled regularly.

This however by no means suggests that the curriculum revamp is of no importance. Rather the policy often made regarding the change too often doesn’t do justice to the complexities teachers face in classroom practices.

Also, its one-sidedness and centralistic nature often disparages teachers as a “transformative intellectual” (to borrow Henry Giroux’s phrase) and treats them as obedient servants ready to implement the agendas of the power holders.

They seem to develop a slogan which tries to belittle teacher’s crucial roles. It may read something like this: Train teachers if they are not familiar with such and such pedagogical dogmas, and equip them with these dogmas to make teaching successful.

Thus, teachers are considered an empty slot – tabula rasa, which needs to be filled every time new dogmas emerge and dominate the pedagogical landscape. Their intuition, biases, subjectivities, knowledge and experiences are summarily dismissed as inauthentic, lacking in their backward, muddle-headed and problematic thinking.

By contrast, educational policy makers behave as if they possess the expert knowledge and the know-how of what is really going in real teaching practices.

With sophisticated and obscure educational concepts they have formulated in the curriculum, they, a priori, validate this ostensibly expert knowledge and assume it will work in any teaching situation. Such is an instance of the imposition of Procrustean standard and romanticizes classroom contexts simply as a site of transmitting and reproducing knowledge.

Contemporary pedagogies, however, especially those inspired by Freirean critical pedagogy, sternly challenge the orthodoxies. These pedagogies employ a ground-up approach in viewing things. They oppose the status quo.

They complicate and politicize classroom contexts as a site where different ideologies, interests, values and cultures jostle against each other. Classrooms are then seen as a site of struggle where individuals freely exercise their agencies and subjectivities without necessarily attempting to achieve commonalities with other individuals.

If shared understandings are to be reached, they shouldn’t be reached by sacrificing diversity and peculiarities unique to one’s own traditions.

What is the implication of this orientation to the role of teachers amid the suppression of their status by the power holders?

Clearly, given their intellectual wherewithal, coupled with their long-standing classroom experiences, they can subvert the so-called expert knowledge, defying it unless it doesn’t go to the very heart of what they are facing in classroom realities.

Or else it is of little or no relevance at all to the situated routine of teaching and learning practices. This all can be done by presupposing that a classroom is a socio-political space, which is loaded with competing interests, values and ideologies.

It is also important to understand that the classroom is not a closed box free from outside influences or forces.

That is, these interests, values, and ideologies are not only derived from inside the classroom, but they also take their shapes from outside influences.

Thus, teachers need to be cognizant that every endorsed educational policy can also be ideologically-loaded, and as such can be utilized as a means to perpetuate and reproduce inequality and injustice.

With such an understanding, teachers can create a “safe space” for themselves (as well as for their students) to decolonize their mind, and more importantly to inject their subversive identities (be they covert or overt) in the policies imposed one-sidedly on them.

In so doing, egalitarian and democratic exchanges of knowledge between teachers and policy-makers can be made possible.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is also chief-editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

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