Shor – Why Teach About Social Class?

Shor, Ira. “Why Teach About Social Class?” Teaching English in the Two Year College. 33.2 (2005): 161-170. Print.

In this article, Ira Shor gives a brief overview of his critical teaching method and then focuses on why he emphasizes social class in his course at the City University of New York college he teachers at. He contextualizes the Two Year College within the political and economic climate of the 1970s to the present. Pointing to the increased Harvardization/corporatization of education he asserts that most students at Two Year Colleges are trying to complete degrees under difficult circumstances at underfunded institutions and depending on shrinking promises of financial reward upon completion. These are the students that Shor says most need to understand issues of social class if they are to be equipped to advocate for themselves out in the world. This understanding, however, does not come from traditional banking educational methods, but by developing critical thinking skills.

What teachers can do, if they believe learning for democracy is our professional responsibility, is to develop students as critical citizens whose thinking and acting include tools for class analysis of their lives, their reading lists, their majors, and their society (168).

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Shor- War, Lies, and Pedagogy: Teaching in Fearful Times

Ira Shor.”Wars, Lies, and Pedagogy: Teaching in Fearful Times.” Radical Teacher. 77 (2006): 30-35. Print.

In this article, Ira Shor is interviewed about a variety of subjects related to his teaching at a City University of New York (CUNY), including how the events of September 11th, the war in Iraq, and privatization affect his teaching. Shor shares his problem-posing methods and hopes that it may produce more civic activism:

For me, it’s learning for civic activism, knowledge making that orients people to question their society, classes that address students as critical thinkers, lovers of life who can remake their troubled world. War, lies, and fear make these difficult times to dream and teach in this country. Please dream on, dear friends and colleagues(35).

Shor – Can Critical Pedagogy Foster Activism in This Time of Repression

Shor, Ira. “Can Critical Pedagogy Foster Activism in This Time of Repression.” : Radical Teacher. 79 (2007): 39. Print.

In this brief article, Ira Shor explains how he uses the problem-posing method in his first year writing class in order to engage students in concrete relevant writing in a democratic classroom environment. With a class of approximate 30 working-class students from diverse background Shor facilitates a process of co-creating the course syllabus. He also uses questionnaires on the first day to determine generative themes that the students later vote on to determine  topics of inquiry. Shor begins with low stakes writing assignments and information that students already have on their selected topics. The students then proceed to research and collect data which Shor says he lets speak for itself without polemic lectures.

In the end, Shor says,

“‘Research’ here was not an abstract or ritual schmooze through steps but a disturbing process of provocative questions raised by virtually any topic in our society” (39).

Shor – Critical Pedagogy is Too Big To Fail

Shor, Ira. “Critical Pedagogy is Too Big to Fail.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.2 (2009): 6-27. Print.

In this article, Shor’s goal is twofold: First,  he addresses similarities and differences between his grading contracts and his colleagues Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz.  While Shor grades the quality of student work on a wider A-F basis, Elbow and Danielewicz only grade quality if a student work is deemed a “B” or better. Another difference is that Shor negotiates the grading contract with his students to construct the classroom as a public sphere, where Elbow and Danielewicz’s contracts are nonnegotiable. Shor asserts that these practices are particularly important in a neo-liberal climate where students need to develop democratic agency. Secondly, Shor addresses a misperception of his pedagogy in Danielewicz and Elbow’s essay regarding polemics in critical pedagogy. Shor says that polemics and proselytizing is not necessary or appropriate in the classroom. He cites himself in Empowering Education to reiterate the point:

Teachers who treat the classroom as a political meeting can expect stiffened resistance from students as well as more vigilant policing from administrators. . . . Dialogic, democratic teaching rejects sectarian posturing. Students cannot be commanded to take action and cannot be graded on their consciousness. (196-97)

Morrell – Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Pop Culture: Literacy Development Among Urban Youth

Morrell, Ernest. “Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Pop Culture: Literacy Development among Urban Youth.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 46.1 (2002): 72-77. Print.

In this article, Morrell suggests that critical teaching of pop culture can help students acquire and develop necessary literacies needed to navigate “new century” schools. He draws on New Literacy theorists and claims that the failure of urban students to develop “academic” literacy comes not from a lack of student intelligence but from a lack of accessibility of the school curriculum to students who are not a part of the “mainstream” culture.

Morrell’s goal is to show how popular culture can be successfully used in critical teaching and draws on data from his 8 years teaching urban teens in the San Francisco Bay area. Morrell’s unit adhered to critical pedagogy because it was based in the students experiences, “called for critical dialogue and a critical engaged of the text, and related the texts to larger social and political issues” (75). Morrell says that students honed the critical and analytical skills. They were also able to make connections between literature, popular culture, and their everyday lives.

While Morrell recognizes the pressures surrounding using critical literacy and popular culture, especially concerning standardized testing, he asserts that teachers should not avoid standards debates or apologize for innovative approaches. Instead he suggests that critical teachers get involved with conversations on assessment that is more compatible with findings on students nonschool literacies.

McGee – Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teaching

McGee, A. Robin. “Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teacher.” Language Arts. 88.4 (2011): 270-277. Print.

A. Robin McGee documents her preservice teaching experience with a sixth grade class where she enacted critical pedagogy. Led by student inquiry, McGee uses Freirian theory of critical pedagogy to help her students learn about issues they were concerned about, immigrants and immigration, through problem-posing. She also reflects on lessons she has learned:

Does it make sense to state that as a 21st-century preservice teacher, I was teaching for social justice? I was able to do some work in the spirit of a just and democratic society. However, if I had opened up my cycle of critical praxis more fully, rather than being so caught up in the mechanics of figuring out “teaching,” my class could have accomplished so much more. If I had been willing to turn over more of the direction and autonomy to the students and the stories they had found, I am sure that the results would have been different—more dramatic and more meaningful.

Greer – “No Smiling Madonna”: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917

Greer, Jane. “‘No Smiling Madonna’: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917.” College Composition and Communication. 51.2 (1999): 248-271. Print.

In this essay, Greer does historiographic work and discusses the life and work of Marian Wharton. Wharton helped shape the English curriculum at People’s College from 1914-1917 with a specific focus on empowering the working-class.

Greer hopes that by exploring Wharton’s struggles she can highlight and learn more about the contradictions that women and other marginalized people face when trying to enact liberatory pedagogy within existing traditional institutions i.e. “free choice and restricted options.” She cites Elizabith Ellsworth and Ira Shor as contemporary teachers that also struggle with these issues in their scholarship on critical pedagogy.

Greer finds that the main tension in Wharton’s work are the unacknowledged existing hierarchies among competing linguistic systems that ultimately disrupt her project (265). For example, in Wharton’s English textbook Plain English designed to teach “revolutionary English” she equates error-free writing with “clear thinking” implying that her students’ different language use made them cognitively deficient (265).

Greer draws parallese between Wharton and contemporary writing instruction:

Just  as Wharton’s  voice  in Plain English moves  among a range of radical and conservative  registers that reflect her personal commitments as well as institutional and cultural  influences,  so  too  our  own  pedagogical  discourse  is  never  fully  our own: it is freighted with competing languages, some of which may reverberate at frequencies  so  low  and  subtle we  may have  difficulty hearing them  ourselves.

Greer suggests that by acknowledging our own tensions and making them transparent to our students we may become role models of the critical students we want them to be.