Clean shirts



  1. Hi Peter,
    I have been inactive on my blog lately because of my “day job,” but someone commented on an old post, which led me to engaging in my blog tonight, and later led me to my post on Friere, which led me to a conversation that we had 2 years back, which led me here. Funny, how one can be led.

    I enjoyed this post, but really wanted to say hi, and that because I had just read my reflections on Friere when I came here, I thought of the triadaciy of his theories: reflection and practice and the true word. Don’t know if you ever got a chance to read him or not. But no matter. I enjoy following the train of thought, and the synthesis you make of the wide array of reading you do. But mainly hi, and glad to “see” you here tonight (tonight for me, though it was last week for you).

  2. Haha, I accidentally commented on “clean shirts”… meant to comment on the post just before this…. You know what I mean!

  3. I have it, too, probably from a bad cold. Your comments were a welcome companion at 2:30 this morning. I read a lot of Freire this summer, and I went back to your blog post about Pedagogy of the Oppressed more than once for some commentary. I worked him into a big paper I wrote this summer that your post tonight had me look at again. He’s a big reason I’m incorporating some art work in my composition class. Here’s another part of how he fits for me (quoting from my paper):

    “The meaning-making inherent in interpreting a constitution, in reading a novel, or in writing an essay reveals the mystery of the interpretant’s inner person that can transcend the public school systems’ emphasis on testing. This testing reinforces a dyadic epistemology that Freire earlier compares to a banking system: teaching ‘becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor’ (Freire, loc. 989). This stunted epistemology is the result of a dyadic zeitgeist that cannot discover the individual in its logical and quantitative approach.”

    Freire is one of my heroes now. The left side of the bulletin board in the post you *meant* to comment on is, of course, what Freire calls the banking system of education. Sick stuff.

    I’m so glad to hear from you, and I hope our paths cross again soon, in C’ville or Bluemont.

  4. Nobody is going to believe that two people can comment so much about Clean Shirts! Clean Shirts are profound!

    Seriously though, insomnia again. Mine is prednisone based – bad respiratory infection which I had to go on two courses of antibiotics for, and two course of prednisone to help with wheezing, squeaking cough.

    After reading your comment about Friere, I went back and read your summer readings list. I see you read Pedagogy of Freedom. I’ve only read Pedagogy of the Oppressed so far, which is (in my opinion) best in the first half. The second half has a lot of meat too, but he uses some communist examples, well primarily Mao, that from my research really quickly began relying on banking education. So when I read it, the examples ring hollow, knowing what I know. In the years leading up to the communist revolution, on the other hand, many of the leftist leaning intellectuals were fascinating from an education reform perspective, and experimented with methods of learning that were problem-posing, dialogue driven models. My masters thesis looked at this with a bit of a different approach, I viewed education reform of that period (1920’s) through the lens of essays and fiction works by leading literary figures of the time. For instance, the novel “Ni Huanzhi” written by Ye Shengtao. It was a novel about a school modeled on the actual school Ye worked for. These reformers, initially were not communists, but anarchists or some chose no label at all. Have you read about the anarchist education movement? Anarchists are often thought about as people who are assassinating leaders, and some did, but a huge part of the movement believed that a kind of utopian society would arise as the peasant classes and upper classes were educated together. Their models of education were very Frierian, before there was a Frierian. Mao, on the other hand, did many things early on to dialogue with the peasant class or at least his writings claimed that was the way to revolution. But very quickly what arose was banking education, and many of the most creative voices who had even helped with the Revolution, were silenced. To summarize it in Friere’s terms: the oppressor still dwelled in those who had been oppressed, and they quickly became the oppressor. Of course, I don’t blame Friere for being enamored with Mao and others (who I know less about), because at the time he wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed (POTO), many leftist leaning folks in the West had an overly-idealized image of the Chinese Communist Revolution, and were responding to what Mao’s writings said, not knowing that the practice was not lining up.

    So that’s my very non-academic, 1:45-AM-with-insomnia critique of the second half POTO. But the first half also made Friere my hero, not to mention that his practice proved his philosophy and theory was “intensely practical” as my Professor put it when we were studying him in grad school. When he had a chance to apply is ideas: he taught 300 illiterate sugar cane workers to read in just 45 days! That is an amazing statistic. So my hero too!

    I may try Pedagogy of Freedom next. Thanks for something to do at 2 am.

  5. I admire theorists I know of like I.A. Richards, Ann Berthoff, and even New Criticism’s Cleanth Brooks who develop their theory in the classroom. Freire and Montessori initially won me over the same way, but by teaching the poor specifically. I started to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness, but I started way more books than I finished this summer.

    You might like Pedagogy of Freedom. It was his last book, “written largely for the graduate seminar on liberation pedagogy that [Freire and the book’s English translator] were scheduled to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Education” in 1997. Instead, Freire died, and Harvard (gratefully, according to the translator) canceled the seminar. The book is less about educating the victims of colonialism as it is about what I’m more conscious of — an oppressive objectivity and regimentation that stifles theory and humanity. By the time he wrote Freedom, Freire had spent years as Sao Paulo’s Secretary of Education, so he had seen school from both sides. Any hard-edged ideology is missing.

    Your masters thesis sounds fascinating. I would like to read “Ni Huanzhi” if there is an English translation (or written in English). I know about 1920s reformers only from one book, and I recall the author describing the period, in America at least, as much like the current one. School systems were enthralled by the business model, and teachers were judged by standards of efficiency — sometimes by stopwatches. The Great Depression didn’t dislodge the business model any more than the Great Recession dislodged the current business model.

    That must be one of the greatest and hardest works in education — to give a political and cultural connection to the voiceless, and to unravel the work of oppression in its many forms. “We were never in bondage to any man” is the age’s refrain. (I guess it’s everyone’s refrain, what must be challenged for any real education to occur.)

  6. Just sent my thesis to you via email, which may help to give some important historical context to “Ni Huanzhi” should you decide to read it. It is available in English translation as “Schoolmaster Ni Huan-chih” (different spelling due to different transliteration methods). The translation I used in my thesis which was the one recommended by my advisor (who of course specializes in the literature of this time period) can be found here:

    I think I remember reading Ann Berthoff in my education classes that were part of my studies, but I don’t remember what. I just remember her name. I do know it wasn’t one of the books we read, but may have been an article.

    Good and interesting discussion which has been leading me to re-read my own thesis.

    1. It has been leading me to reread my paper from this last summer.

      I’m so glad you included that link. I spent time yesterday in a futile search for an English translation of “Ni Huanzhi.” I’ve been wanting to read a novel about teaching that gets across theory and reform. Most teaching movies I’ve seen are idealistic, inaccurate, and without substance. (The novel Stoner is a refreshing exception.) More soon.

  7. P.S. I mentioned anarchist theories of education. The bibliography in my thesis has some great references for the anarchist education movement, which, whether you believe in anarchist theory or not, the education aspect was quite extraordinary. Much of this literature is summarized in my thesis. Besides, the ones that specifically mention anarchist educational theories, there is also the reference by Suzanne Pepper which is broader, but covers anarchism within the broader context of the education reform of the period.

    Anarchism as a political theory has never proven practical in large part because it relies on the emergence of a utopian society for it to work. The education was with the aim of creating such a society. Having said that, I believe their educational aims were very nobel: to raise the sights of those who had no voice in society, and their experiments as I have said were very Frierian in their application.

    1. I look forward to your thesis for this, too. A student-oriented approach to writing instruction means a lot of things: lip service, Montessori’s directresses, current collaborative learning techniques, inter alia. Student choice, “the public turn,” and project orientation help. I know nothing about “anarchist theories of education,” but just the name brings hope. And many political theorists get around to educational theory, e.g., Locke and Rousseau. Hard to do political theory without epistemology, I think, and epistemology usually leads us to children. So it’s not just about indoctrinating the next generation :).

      I think it’s in Pedagogy of Freedom where Freire has to beat off accusations that he advocates chaos and disrespect in the classroom. On the contrary, he says, it’s mutual respect.

      1. You might be interested in more of the history of education in China. Chinese education had a long history of composition being at the center of education, even long before the reform period my thesis covers. I reference this slightly in my paper. The reform issue at stake during the May 4th period was that in reformer’s views composition had become only imitation and also was inaccessible to all classes in society. There might be something in my bibliography that touches on this, but if not could probably find you a good reference if you are ever interested.

        Also your comment “epistemology usually leads us to children” is interesting in light of what I wrote about Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman,” especially since you wrote it BEFORE you read my thesis. I LOVE Lu Xun. If you ever want to read him I can recommend a fabulous short story collection.

        1. I didn’t know that composition studies were so important in China. I didn’t know any of this about China. In the West, rhetoric went on the decline at the outset of the Renaissance, when rhetoric lost invention and argumentation to the field of philosophy and was left with only style and delivery. And I suppose Emerson is the great American voice for the position that everyone has the capacity for eloquence. So maybe there are parallels with the ebbs and flows in composition studies (or rhetoric, since they were one in the same until recent decades) in China and the U.S.

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