#DigiWriMo, November 1 – Co-learning #1

DIGITAL WRITING MONTH & CO-LEARNING, RESET & ELABORATED UPON

In my last post, I mentioned that I had a conversation that impressed me with the need to think more deeply and write about co-learning.

Some background – this alum graduated from MVHS in ’09, attended Berkeley, and now works as a community organizer. She wrote a Facebook post earlier this week that challenged my thinking: it was about the need not for individual success but for collective liberation.

CS Facebook post

I was deeply impressed by Cynthia’s argument, and I asked myself, is my teaching practice helping or hurting? For example, as I wrote to Cynthia after reading her post, we have worked at our school to create a college-going culture – but should we instead focus on creating a culture of care? Last year, a pair of surveys indicated that fewer than half of our students perceive our school as a place where an adult cares about them.  Perhaps not coincidentally, our A – G completion rate (in California, this measures the students who are eligible to apply to a four-year college for freshman entry) is also below 50%.

Now, of course, going to college is a good thing; we are right to encourage our students to go to college. But would we perhaps have a better outcome if we focused on creating a culture of caring instead of a “college-going culture”? Put another way, is our emphasis on college readiness paradoxically replicating the inequities that we see in the wider society?

I had a chance to talk to Cynthia when she visited Mountain View last week, and I explained my research project. After discussing my aim for a bit, Cynthia suggested that I didn’t sound confused about how to move forward with making my classroom more democratic – that I had a plan for learning more about how this might work in practice. Instead, she suggested, the deeper question centered around co-learning. She challenged me to consider this idea, and its implications for transforming Mountain View, more deeply.

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to do this during #DigiWriMo.

WHAT IS CO-LEARNING?

For my first post, I’d like to ask the question, What exactly is co-learning?

As with any profound and complex idea, my definition of co-learning will evolve over time. At the moment, though, I think that co-learning demands a shift in perspective.

It’s not just making the classroom student-centered, although it involves this. (It seems worth noting that “student-centered” is one of those phrases that, value-laden and presumably progressive in addition, have been hijacked by reactionary forces. “Accountability” and “writing workshop” are two more such phrases that spring to mind. I’ve come to use “accountability” – in quotes – to mean “coercive, anti-democratic policies” while I reserve accountability, without quotes, to mean “responsibility to one’s community.” I think I’d like to write a kind of glossary post to explore this idea of “hijacked lexicon” and “authentic lexicon” more deeply.)

Instead, it demands a radical humility, a humility that acts not with “the behavior of those fulfilling a vow” (Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers – Letters to Those Who Dare Teach, p. 39) but rather challenges the teacher to view the classroom as a space where, as Cynthia put it in our conversation, students can be “their true selves.”

This is a tremendously exciting prospect, as well as a frightening one.  What if I make mistakes? What if students don’t learn “what they’re supposed to?” What if an administrator thinks that my room is chaotic?  Perhaps most importantly, what if these changes to my classroom practice prevent meaningful learning instead of supporting it?

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