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Democratic Classrooms

Portelli and Konecny argue that schooling in North America is oppressive, and stifles efforts to enact democratic practices in classrooms. In their article, “Neoliberalism, subversion, and democracy in education”, the education system appears to have systemic inequities and leads to dehumanization. It is through subversive means that educators can create classrooms where students and teachers are able to be ‘whole’ human beings. Portelli further suggests that is through subversive means that there is space for participatory education. Portelli states that the contemporary school system makes teachers into authority figures which dehumanizes students. In other words, educators are there to administer lessons, and students are there to get good grades. Consequently, education is oppressive.

Education, as presented in the articles we have had to read in the last month, should open up possibilities for all life and multiple forms of success. Therefore, educational policy should reflect opportunities for all learners and their potential. Portelli would aruge, otherwise, education is not democratic.

Portelli’s article is an excellent segue into Hope’s “Student resistance to the surveillance curriculum”; Hope’s article suggests students are monitored and there is more ability to influence individuals, and Portelli’s asked us to reflect on whether our education system is democtratic. Is democracy truly democratic if we are being monitored and influenced because of the decisions we make on a daily basis? Is this any different from targeted ads on Snapchat after taking to Google to look up something? If these practices exist outside of our education, then why not begin at a young age? But again, is it truly democratic?

Schools now have access to monitoring devices, such as internet tracking, which allows for data to be created around anything from the monitoring of food consumption to identify ‘problem’ students. Now, surveillance is not new. Schools have monitored students through attendance, examinations, and searches of lockers and desks. Tracking their movements online is another form of this surveillance – adapted to contemporary society. What is interesting, however, is school-age youth now have more access to technology and appear to be outspoken about their rights. It’s been beautiful to watch – students are coming out as LGBTQ2S+ more than ever, students are speaking up about mental health, students are talking about the importance of trades and knowing more than a mathematical formula. Similarly, students are speaking out about the control schools are exercising over their surveillance through technology.

Both articles draw me to the importance of relationship building and rapport as an educator. The student-teacher relationship is well studied, and there is a great deal of research which examines these relationships and the importance of building meaningful ones. “Building strong relationships with children will have a positive influence on student success” (Glenda). Democratic education, according to Portelli is one where students and teachers are learning together, and participating in their growth. In my mind, I picture a match of ping-pong. Some give, some take. Everyone is on the same playing field. Teachers should be prepared not to present themselves as superior beings. White we need to exercise our position, we should also be prepared to share our own personal experiences with the class. Moreover, research also suggests the importance of “establishing a caring environment in which educators know, respect and connect with kids” (Mendler, 2001). Similarly, I believe that the over-surveillance of students removes the potential to build trust which fosters healthy and nurturing student-teacher relationships. It is through trust that we are able to provide students with an atmosphere where they can take risks, make mistakes, and continually improve their learning.

This leads me to my own personal experiences. In my first class of 8/9’s, I provided them with a sign out sheet. I didn’t ask them to ask me to use the washroom, get water, get food. I wanted them to have a sense of freedom. At the time, I hadn’t realized this would also lead to building self-regulation (but that’s an added bonus!). I’m sure there were times my students goofed off when they left the room, but honestly, my students did not abuse the system. They knew to go one at a time, they made sure to return to class, and didn’t interrupt us when we were learning. That’s not to say all classes would be like that, but it did encourage me to think about what over-monitoring our students might actually do to them – and if it is harmful.

Second, when I began practicum I opted to go with the name “Miss Gwen”. Besides me not being a fan of my last name, I am a young teacher and I felt it helped me connect with my High school students. In the Northwest Territories many communities opt not to use formal “Mr.” or “Miss” with their students. It is related to residential schooling, and the formalities which were used during those times. So, I dropped the Miss and went by Gwen (or Gwenny, the younger students enjoy that much more, as do I). I felt it helped me bond with my students and put us on the same playing field. Quite honestly, they taught me so much about their culture and way of life that in many ways, I too was their student. Now, in the Yukon, it is the opposite. Teachers all go by their last names. While I’m sure my principal would rather I use Miss, I am not correcting my students when they simply say “Gwen”. Some students prefer to add Miss at the beginning, and that’s fine of course, but I give them the choice. At the end of the day, I am just a facilitator for their learning. What I give to them is not necessarily the be all and end all – and many times they might know more than I do. We are all learning together. Upon reading the Portelli article, to me, that’s my way of creating a more democratic education.

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