We Make the Road by Walking: chapter 4, “Educational Practice”

Welcome to our book club’s ongoing reading of We Make the Road by Walking.  In this post we can discuss chapter 4, “Educational Practice”.  Here I’ll offer a summary of the reading, followed by some reflections and discussion questions.

Horton Freires a Who! by Adam CroomI’m also going to add a new section, Book Club Activity, because so many people have been so active across the web.

I. Book Club Activity
A few days ago I posted about how readers have been creating stuff about the book online, from Twitter to images to blogs.  Since that post went up those readers and others have been blogging their reading like mad.

For example, Bonnie Stewart relates Horton’s and Freire’s projects to a fascinating Canadian education movement.  John Stewart posts about the organization discussion  and also the book’s resonances with Software Carpentry.  Adam Croom reflects on chapter 3.  Alan Levine bushwhacks his way in.  Kyle Johnson explores neutrality and bias.  Maha Bali thinks about reading and reading the book.  Laura Ritchie posts about books, pigs, and the cello,  then about book learning, systems, and more.  Grant Potter blogged about the first two chapters. Lora Taub-Pervizpour described and reflects on her experience as an educator in Brazil, trying to use Freire’s work.

Ray Maxwell Storified a Twitter conversation, and also highlighted one rich passage:



Leadership Schools and Digital Literacy

I think this online book club has quickly evolved into something close to a cMOOC.

II. Summary

This chapter focuses on the practice of nonauthoritarian education.  It begins by exploring ways of empowering learners within education, including questions of curricular determination, respect, and different types of knowledge.  A third party questioner then gets Freire and Horton discussing how teachers can both value students’ knowledge while nudging them past that level (154ff).  Joy and delight in learning emerges as a goal and challenge (170).  The section ends on notes of vision, self-doubt, and educators learning.

It’s actually hard to break out these different points, since they overlap and repeat throughout the section.

III. Reflections

There are many observations about practical teaching and learning in this chapter, including practices that may be familiar to us.  For example, students shaping the curriculum (145), questions rather than lectures (146-7), peer learning (162), small group work, connecting different classes with each other (165), role playing (166), even black/whiteboard tips (167).  There’s also a good idea about starting to be “a democratic teacher” on the first day (160) and a powerful vision of learners controlling their entire class structure (164).

Some of the stories about encouraging students to read about a subject, rather than get lectured about it, remind me of today’s flipped classroom practice (166, 169, 170).

One of my favorite passages is when Freire describes teaching in the present by thinking of the future.

[I]f you don’t do something today, you become an obstacle for hundreds of people not yet born.  Their action on the next century depends on our action today.  I think that this kind of educator has to be clear about that.

It’s impossible for me just to thnk of my dream without thinking about those who are not yet in the world.  I have to have this strange feeling to love those who have not come yet, in order to prepare… (190-1)

Both educators emphasis holistic, total, whole person education (176, 168-9).  That includes multiple modes of learning, social development, and even a learner’s understanding of reality, “a process that involves the total person, involves vision, involves total realities.” (176)

“The critic said, but don’t you feel awkward about biting the hand that feeds you? I said no, I enjoy just gnawing it up to the shoulder.  That was on a public TV program.  It haunted me for years, the image of a one-armed capitalist!” (176)

“[E]ducators here have been educators but have accepted to be educated too.” (156)

Freire returns to the theme of teaching socially (embedding curricular topics in social conditions) by expanding to the ontological: “the question is how to take advantage of the reading of reality, which the people are doing, in order to make it possible for students to make a different and much deeper reading of reality.” (158)

There’s a strong sense of ongoing experimentation and incompleteness in this chapter.  Horton describes “experimenting… [n]ot on people but with people.” (148)  Freire describes himself as “humble because I am incomplete.” (194)

I like this note about intrinsic rewards of learning:

Studying is demanding, hard, difficult.  But inside of the difficulty, happiness begins to be generated.  At some point we become absolutely happy with the results, which come from having been serious and rigorous. (171)

IV. Discussion questions

“One of the best ways to educate is to ask questions.” (147)

Have you experienced some degree of student control over curriculum, either as student or instructor?

Education as an experience of joy… how has that changed since Freire’s and Horton’s experiences?

I’m fascinated by this chapter’s emphasis on a teacher’s presence and performance.  It seems self-abnegating to me.  For example, Horton refers to having a problem in discussion, “the temptation to guess in favor of your subjectivity, your [the teacher’s] experience instead of their [students’] experience.” (159-160)  Does this go too far in effacing an instructor’s self?

Horton and Freire are very concerned with the way students expect instructors to be experts.  “[T]hey’re socialized by society to look for an expert.” (161)   Much has changed socially since these conversations occurred, from the internet-enabled access to information to this year’s populist uprisings.  Do you think students still have the same expert expectation?

On 165 Horton describes a fascinating take on inter-class transfer.  He asks students in one class to build on the work and conclusions of its predecessor.  Do we do this now?

At one point (184) Horton describes choosing to work with learners “who, if they chose to – and I was going to try to help them choose -had the power to change society.” Is this a different charge in 2016, when the American middle class has been hollowed out?  How does this charge change when politics and social power are migrating online?

Freire calls for very assertive teachers.  “My insecurity destroys my necessary authority with the students.” (188)  Is this true for you as an instructor or learner, or can you perform insecurity in a pedagogically beneficial way?

V. And over to you

What do you make of this extraordinary book?  And what are you making in response to it?

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16 Responses to We Make the Road by Walking: chapter 4, “Educational Practice”

  1. CogDog says:

    cMOOC? You had to invoke MOOCTHULU?


  2. Definitely want to read this book now. Will have to wait for winter break. Thanks for posting about it.

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  5. Joe Murphy says:

    I found this a marvelously resonant chapter, crying out for immediate rereading. It reminded me how much faculty development work is a form of adult education (and a political act – meaning an activity inseparable from people, societies, and power relationships).

    Good instructional design work often starts with an appeal to an expert – a faculty member shows up with an idea, looking for help with a tool or strategy. You can answer that question, and it may the right thing to do – but almost always, you can create an opportunity for deeper education (instead of mere training or a service transaction) by opening up a conversation with the faculty member about their hopes and goals, troubles and joys, in the course or in a broader context. And once you’ve done that, you see what Freire says about the learner being ready to “go beyond” and keep asking their own questions and making their own implementation decisions.

    And how strong is that temptation, as Horton says, to “unload this great load of gold that we have stored up”! Yet I’ve seen over and over again how quickly faculty can reject the “have I got a tool for you” approach to library services and IT services and teaching philosophies… or even impute that approach when I didn’t consciously put it there. I think I’d go further than I remember Horton and Freire going – spending too much time in your own area of expertise doesn’t just risk “losing” the learners, sometimes it actively invites them to reject your expertise as irrelevant to their lives. (I remember the example of the Highlander class that told an outside expert to leave, if all their answers were just going to be “read the book.”) It’s a tightrope act, this balancing of expertise and authority, and as they say it’s an act which changes over your career.

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