Yesterday, Ira Shor Skyped into our seminar class to talk with us about critical pedagogy. With more time, he could have really shared a lot of great insight, but even in a condensed period (~40 minutes), he shared quite a bit, including some really catchy, concise phrases. This is a sample of our conversation with him:
“You don’t relinquish authority. You test the conditions for distributing authority.”
This was a recurring response. As a class, we read Critical Teaching and Everyday Life, and we were curious what advice Shor would have to graduate student teachers; specifically, how graduate students, who already enter the classroom with less authority, can try to decenter that authority while maintaining ethos. Shor’s response, that you have to own and establish your authority before you can think about distributing it, resonated with me for thinking about how I can distribute my own power in the comp classroom.
“Critical education is democratic, not permissive. Students cannot do whatever they want, and neither can the teacher: we’re negotiating the class space together.”
This quotation also reflected on the conversation about power and authority in the classroom, particularly in terms of mutual respect. That is, Shor described the way many first-year students enter the FYC classroom with high school mentalities, thinking they have a “grace” period where they don’t have to do the work. However, he emphasized the importance of making sure that students (and instructors) work and learn and adhere to collective goals.
“We need to have a very long time frame for students to become adept with learning the code of standard English. […] If we say, ‘You have one year of required freshman comp to learn standard English,’ we are writing failure into the curriculum.”
For me, this was the defining moment in our conversation with Shor. He argued for a “competence” with SAE, in order for students to become better citizen-activists, but he simultaneously argued that the FYC classroom cannot guarantee that competence. He argued that, of course, students can learn standard English, but that it is unrealistic for us to think (and to push) that they can in a matter of 16 weeks.
I’ve been amassing all of these conversations about how faculty in other departments depend on comp instructors to teach students English, which I’ve never agreed with. I think Shor’s argument is important to remember: We can’t teach students SAE in one semester, and we shouldn’t expect or be expected to.