Teaching is a power struggle.

During my internship in rural India last winter, I was introduced to the concept of Natural Learning. Natural Learning is an ideology developed by Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, emphasizing the importance of the education found in engaging with the natural world rather than within the walls of a structured classroom, as well as balancing the teacher-student power dynamic through mutual respect and non-violence. It is reminiscent of a Montessori or Waldorf approach to teaching and learning, allowing the kids to explore at their own pace and giving students control and choice over their learning. I think this approach would be challenging to fully integrate into a current public school atmosphere, and I also think many children need more guidance and direction than such an approach would promote. However, I believe it addresses the teacher-student power dynamic in a really valuable way. Why do teachers need to have complete control? There are ways to provide choice and control for children, while still guiding and directing their learning. From my classroom observations, it seems that when students are given control and choice, they become more engaged and interested, even if they have chosen to do the same thing the teacher would have directed them to do.
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On-going self-analysis and critical self-examination of our own positions of privilege and power are essential if we are going to be teachers for social justice. I believe that if through this reflective process we reveal cloaked positions of privilege, we are then accountable and responsible to use the power that comes with that position for good purposes. To do this effectively, we must deeply study the sources and exchanges of our privileges. If we can understand our powers as teachers and social beings, we can then figure out how to use these powers in the work of cultivating social justice and equity. Self-reflection must go beyond “Who am I in relation to these diverse children?” towards “How can I use my own privilege to equitably support each of these children?”

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