By Zac: We discussed the Forward and Introduction of “Educating for Insurgency”. We began the discussion talking about the confusing nature of how the book is written. The text seems to be expressing simple ideas of student autonomy, choice, and leadership, but it is written in a complex way.
It was suggested that the writing style is meant to mirror the author’s philosophical position that language is a form of power and students’ and teachers’ actions can be seen as a grand act of theater. The text may be written stylistically to mirror this standpoint. We thought it would be useful to examine more deeply the writings of Burke and Ellison who are mentioned in the text to better understand their theories.
Much of the rest of the conversation focused on what “insurgency” means within the context of the book and our teaching. Is the book really about “organizing” in the traditional sense of community organizing? To some of us, the organizing strategies and student-centered approaches did not seem particularly new or well-defined. We then entered a conversation that focused on how seeing students’ actions as responses to oppression within the school context could move teachers and students to be more “humanized” within a dehumanizing context.
Many of us thought that this philosophical approach focusing on human relationship between teachers and students, rather than focusing on teaching pedagogy or classroom management is in itself “insurgent”, especially if one teaches from this position. We had a long discussion about what this would mean for students, teachers, and schools. We discussed restorative practices, circles, student leadership, progressive/political curricula, and the pressure of time and standards in the classroom. We also discussed how students can respond both positively and negatively toward being given more autonomy when they have been trained to be compliant and when the greater school environment does/does not support a re-thinking of traditional student/teacher power relationships.
We discussed whether an "insurgency" ought to start with students or with adults, or both. Our closing discussion was a debate about the purpose of political education in the classroom. Should the purpose of education for students in urban schools give them tools for political education to understand their context, skills to be academically successful, or both? Is it fair to educate kids toward a particular political viewpoint? What would this viewpoint be? Would this sacrifice or complement other academic skills? What is the role of student choice in this process?