In his book, Empowering Education, Ira Shor examines the educational system today. Shor feels that the traditional teacher driven model that focuses on transmission of knowledge and memorization of facts provides a disservice to the students. Shor also feels that "education is politics". He believes that even though teachers may feel that today’s curriculum is politically neutral it is really the opposite. He explains, “Education can either develop or stifle their inclination [students] to ask what and to learn. A curriculum that avoids questioning school and society is not, as is commonly supposed politically neutral. It cuts off the students’ development as critical thinkers about their world. If the students’ task is to memorize rules and existing knowledge without questioning the subject matter or learning process, their potential for critical thought and action will be restricted.” Shor goes on to describe that a curriculum that encourages questioning is key. He states, “Not encouraging students to question knowledge, society, and experience tactically endorses and supports status quo.”
Shor, like Finn, feels the current model of education places too much value on docility and obeying authority, which in turn creates a theme of resistance from the students. Shor goes on to explain “Education can socialize students into critical thought or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind or into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean.” Shor and Finn both believe that by telling students what to do and not telling them why they are doing it is creates this resistance from students, and they then take less interest in their learning. Shor believes that curriculum should encourage student questioning. He explains why questioning leads to empowered education, “In a curriculum that encourages student questioning, the teacher avoids unilateral transfer of knowledge. She or he helps the students develop their intellectual and emotional powers to examine their learning in school, their everyday experience, and the condition of society. Empowered students make meaning and act from reflection, instead of memorizing facts and values handed to them.” Shor feels that students today are not receiving empowering education. Many of the students are resisting education because they are being told what to do without being able to question why they are doing it; therefore they do not feel like they are truly involved in their educational process.
Shor feels that in order to get our students to invest in and value education we as educators need to provide our students with empowering education. Shor states that empowering education is, “critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change. It is a student centered program for multicultural democracy in school and society. It approaches individual growth as active, cooperative, and social process, because the self and society create each other…The goals of this pedagogy are to relate personal growth to public life by developing strong skills, academic knowledge, habits of inquiry, and critical curiosity about society, power, inequality, and change.” Shor goes on to explain that the first step in creating empowering education is participation. A participatory pedagogy gets students interacting and allows them to feel involved in their learning. It allows them to feel as though their voices are heard and that decisions are mutual, not strictly teacher driven.
Shor also feels that emotional elements are also important aspects of empowering education. He believes that traditional education can produce negative emotions due to teacher center politics and competition. Shor states, “The difference between empowering and traditional pedagogy has to do with the positive or negative feeling the students develop for the learning process…The authoritarian traditional curriculum itself generates bad feelings which lead many students to resist or sabotage lessons.” Shor explains that empowering education can do the complete opposite through participation. He explains, “In contrast, an empowering educator seeks a positive relationship between feeling and thought. He or she begins this search by offering a participatory curriculum. In a participatory class where authority is mutual , some positive affects which support student learning include cooperativeness, curiosity, humor, hope, responsibility, respect, attentiveness, openness, and concerns about society.” When students have positive emotions about school, they are motivated more to succeed. In turn students achieve more.
The next value Shor discusses in empowering education is problem posing. Shor explains, “Another means to engage students in critical and mutual learning can be found in the third value, problem posing.” Shor explains how teachers can use problem posing in a variety of disciplines to teach content knowledge but to also teach students to question aspects of the teachings. He states, “What students and teachers reinvent in problem posing is their relationship with learning and authority. They redefine their relationship to each other, to education, and to expertise. They re-perceive knowledge and power. As allies for learning and for democracy in school and society, they stop being adversaries divided by unilateral authority and fixed canons.” Shor feels that problem posing can tear down the walls between students and teacher. It can, like participatory and affective values, create a dialogue between the students and the teacher then will create a desire to learn form the students rather than resistance. The students will be able to relate the content area to their society, making it much more relevant to them.
Shor goes on to explain that problem posing is also multicultural, another important value of empowering education. He states, "Empowering pedagogy develops classroom discourse from the students' cultural diversity...When problem posing situates itself in the language and perceptions of students, their divers cultures are built into the study. When students see their worlds and experiences as problems posed... the power relations of study are allied to their interests. It becomes easier for them to understand the meaning and purpose of intellectual work. Studying is no longer submitting to a dull imposition of alien culture." When the students can relate the curriculum to their culture, it becomes something they identify with and want to learn about, it is not an 'alien culture' they do not care about but are forced to learn about anyways.
This reading was a great choice for the final reading of the course. I felt it connected to not just Finn, but almost all of the texts we read in the course. As a teacher it made me want to provide empowering education for my students. I liked how Shor provided explicit instruction on how to create empowering education and also provided the rationale behind it.