Teaching is…a metaphor

Teaching is transforming old constructs.

When I started my college education, I did not expect everything I believed to be challenged. Some of those beliefs I have held on to steadfastly, while others have transformed and although some in my life would tell me I have been “brainwashed” by “liberal institutions” like the media and the university I attended, I know the transformations occurred because I was asked to look at and think critically of the social constructs that have shaped our lives and the ways in which Americans interact with each other.

This metaphor and the image that brought it to my mind is the reason I decided to become a teacher. One of the many responsibilities of teaching, as I have progressively learned over this past quarter, is to competently create and navigate a classroom and school community that is increasing diverse, with a myriad of strengths and weaknesses. Connecting my teacher education to my previous undergraduate education, and having the perspective that is a result of my life’s experiences, I can acknowledge that students are individuals with individual experiences, but also the products of greater forces at work: race, gender, government institutions that are inherently biased.

Margaret Buchmann calls teaching an act of taking up moral obligation to students, families, and communities. If we accept this as true, then it is our moral obligation to help students think critically about the social constructs that shape our daily lives and even for some, our fates. Why are certain people portrayed a certain way in movies and television? Why, when at the toy store, are certain toys advertised for boys and others advertised for girls? Are there certain people who are over represented in American prisons than in the larger population? If we decide these things are unjust, how do we go about fixing them? 

I am also reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s idea of “Changing Paradigms” and his arguments for the “transformation” of the schooling structure. Indeed, I at first intended my metaphor to say “rebuilding,” but decided “transforming” would make more sense. “Rebuilding” sounds like tearing down and then putting up the same structure. It would not be enough to just analyze or “tear down” these social constructs. We would also need to help create citizens who leave our schools and make it their work to “transform” these unjust constructs into ideals of equity, social justice, and understanding.

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