We Make the Road by Walking: chapter 3

Welcome to our book club’s ongoing reading of We Make the Road by Walking.  In this post we can discuss chapter 3, “Ideas”.  In this post I’ll offer a summary of the reading, followed by some reflections and discussion questions.

To read previous posts and comments about this reading, including explanations of what we’re up to, click here.  Don’t miss the rich comments on chapters 1+2, and Adam Croom’s great post on those chapters.

We Make the Road by Walking Conversations on Education and Social Change Search the full text of this book Search Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, edited by Brenda Bell, John Gaventa and John PetersI. Summary

“Ideas” explores the intersection between politics and education.  Myles Horton and Paolo Freire start with their preference for combined theory and practice, then argue for teaching that situates curriculum in social context.  They tease out the links and differences between teaching and political organization, then return to the previous chapter’s theme of authority and authoritarianism in education.

II. Reflections

There are a lot of practical, tactical questions in this chapter.  How much politics can you teach in a biology class (104)?  When should a teacher give their opinion on a subject (107)?  When does expertise empower or disempower learners (120-1, 128-9)?  When should faculty oppose their institution (142-3)?

Some great aphorisms:

  • “When you’re talking, you aren’t learning.” (114)
  • “Education is before, is during, and is after.  It’s a process, a permanent process.It has to do with the human existence and curiosity.” (119)
  • “If I’m the expert, my expertise is in knowing not to be an expert or in knowing how I feel experts should be used.” (131)
  • “[T]here can be no such thing as neutrality. It’s a code word for the existing system.” (102)

Horton’s autobiographical stories are simply amazing, from organizing a union (110-111) to being held at gunpoint for not teaching (126-7).

Interesting critique of political leaders for being too focused on emotion (109), instead of being “translators” of the people’s will (111).  Related to that is the political power inherent in teaching and learning, as when “[w]e took over the county politically by using education” (125).

Gender makes an appearance in a discussion of when to intervene in a sexist practice (131-2).

Freire references Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, who led a rebellion in Guinea Bissau.  Freire advised him and published a book about the experience, Pedagogy In Process: The Letters to Guinea Bissau (1978). (133)

While they agree on many things, Horton and Freire disagree on several points.  Freire prefers open discussion of a population’s problems, while Horton prefers to act silently, without “forc[ing] people to admit they were wrong… We just skipped the stage of discussion.” (135)  They also have different ideas about the role of limits (139-141).

III. Discussion questions

Freire offers this striking politics of learning and teaching: “The educator must know in favor of whom and in favor of what he or she wants. That means to know against whom and against what we are working as educators.” (100; emphasis added).  Who would educators work against in 2016?  Is it ethical for educators to teach in opposition to people and forces?

Freire also argues that teachers are often part of the current system: “eduction [is] something that really is superstructure and a productive reproducer of the dominant ideology.”   At the same time teachers can “denounce… the dominant ideology”. (118)   Is that as true of today as it was in 1987?

What does Horton mean by participatory research?  He mentions this a couple of times (122, for example), but I’m not sure how he intends it.

Both educators speak of the importance of deemphasizing experts in education, even to the point of excluding them from workshops (128).  Does this approach change with the internet and mobile devices, rendering far greater access to experts?

How can educators criticize a culture without “interfer[ing]” in it (131ff)?

Horton describes his combination of education and politics as “more concerned with structural changes than… with changing hearts of people.” (103)  Does that describe your own practice, or is yours the reverse?

IV. And over to you

What do you think of these “Ideas”?

If you’d like to catch up on earlier parts of our reading, click these links to see the reading plan, notes and questions on chapters 1 and 2, and an introduction to the book.  Click here to find Adam Croom’s notes on chapters 1 and 2.  Don’t miss this Google Doc of resources.

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7 Responses to We Make the Road by Walking: chapter 3

  1. ellenandjim says:

    This is a superb blog. I do read these blogs of reading (even if I’m not reading the book). Thank you for your wonderful presence on the Net and FB. Ellen

  2. Kate Bowles says:

    I’ve finally made it to chapter 3, in my ongoing “We Make The Book Club By Walking Well Behind The Main Group” journey. I feel as though I search for your chapter summaries like cairns of stones. I’ve also developed a superstition about not reading ahead. So I can see that Chapter 4 exists in your blog, but I’ve rushed past with my eyes closed. #spoileralert

    Walkers who have written (extensively) about their experiences on the Camino describe this pattern of falling in with, or falling behind, walking companions along the way. People start out together and lose each other; new walking groups form and carry along together for a while.

    I didn’t expect a book club to be so flexible in terms of time and I really welcome this. Thank you for being up ahead, thank you for leaving the piles of stones.

  3. Joe Murphy says:

    I was interested in the way that this chapter resonates with the current advice on teaching and learning generally. From the cognitive side, learning is increasingly seen as the process of connecting new memories to old ones – so you have to know what your students know, even if it’s wrong, to enable new connections. And from the student development side, I see more and more calls to get to know your students, both on a personal level and on a demographic one. (I’m afraid that what I see in the general education press looks more driven by the pressure to retain students under changing demographic pressures than actual focus on teaching and learning, but I know that on the ground it’s much more complex than that.)

    I think, though, that Horton and Freire would see merely marking the similarity as stopping too soon. It’s a small change to find out what the student knows about biology, and a much bigger one to find out what they know about biologists in society. And similarly, as much as I agree with much of the advice about supporting diversity on campus, I do feel like it frequently (and productively) stops at the “free to be you and me” level without asking whether there are elements of our students’ experiences which demand fundamental changes to the social institution of college.

    (And now I’m wondering what Horton and Freire would think of “unbundling”…)

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