Control and Freedom: part 1 of infinity.

“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” ― James Baldwin.

“Bussed to white schools, we soon learned that obedience, and not a zealous will to learn, was what was expected of us. Too much eagerness to learn could easily be seen as a threat to white authority.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom

When I speak of a child’s right to freedom, I mean that by virtue of being human she is endowed with the unassailable right not to have any part of her personhood assaulted or stolen. -Carla Shalaby, Troublemakers

“It’s just that Señora’s classroom is more free than yours” – my 11th grade student January 2020

I am really nervous about all the new things teachers are going to try to control now that we don’t have physical classrooms.— Me, yesterday on twitter (@sophgermain) July 26, 2020

I am trying to write a proposal. I have for about a year now been thinking about my classroom and how I run it. The balance of control and freedom. I am trying to cohesively pull together 500 words about that and how I am working to shift away from a model of control to a model of freedom. I truly don’t know if I can.

By the time students get to me they have been in a school system for a least 10 years that has continually worked to teach them obedience. I am thinking about the teacher in Carla Shalaby’s Troublemakers who said, “I have to sort of bring them into a place where their behavior is commensurate with the expectations of the classroom because this is a white-bread Americana school.” I know that in their at least ten years of schooling my students have had teachers that thought things like this. I know this because I have been that teacher. I thought for years that my job was to teach students to fit into and work in a system. That to belong in the system was success. Until recently, I had never considered the problem was the system itself.

When they get to me they are not only holding the pain of a system that forces them to a shape their bodies in to seats build for someone else but also they see me. I am white and I teach math. I remember listening to Marian Dingle interview Naomi Jessup on the Heinemann podcast. Dr. Jessup talked about this one bad (read: probably racist) math teacher her child had had and how after that she became her child’s at home math teacher. That even if the kid had had good teachers later her kid was done with them. I imagine that by the time kids get to me many of them have hit that point but without a math teacher parent at home to help them.

Now, I am thinking about next year. About the 2020-2021 school which has the potential to be entirely online. I am watching teachers build bitmoji classroom (see: Kelly’s great thread here), spend hours sorting out zoom, and transfer entire curriculums online. I am seeing threads about expectations for video conferences and uniforms and physical spaces. (Just to be clear some of your kids are gonna zoom from their beds because that is their only personal space. Some of them share a bed.)

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Nothing matters more than taking care of my kids. This means knowing them and listening to them and honoring who they are.
  2. This is an entirely new world, if I want to try to do something different or cool or something that doesn’t work this is the time.
  3. This is also a time for honestly and co-building. By co-building I mean, asking the kids what they think and want and then doing that. (If not now, when?)
  4. Lastly, and permanently on my mind, how do I educate for freedom? How do I make my room a free place? How do I encourage kids to take it? How do I help them reignite a zealous will to learn?

1 thought on “Control and Freedom: part 1 of infinity.

  1. The past few years I’ve been directing my energy at essentially this question. I am learning primarily from the pedagogies of The Algebra Project, but also looking at principles in Free Schools. I look forward to reading what you learn.


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