In an excerpt I read from Fires in the Bathroom, Kathleen Cushman points out the lack of student voice in the curriculum and ultimately appears to equate this feeling of alienation with the disruptive behavior outside of the classroom of which the book title implies. The only way to combat the tendency of teachers to spoon feed information to students and fill the students “banks” with information which will later be tapped during an exam is to change the idea of what it means “to teach”.
In William McBride's book, Entertaining an Elephant: A Novel About Learnng and Letting Go, the protagonist s ready to fill the "banks" of his students and is challenged by questions that the debate team leaves unwashed on his board each afternoon. In a Shakepearian twist the janitor is the bearer of wisdom and the hero, a mid career burnt out teacher must learn to accept that his persoanl definiton of "education" is not without fault. The main character is tossed into the world of essential questions, and reluctantly creates a democratic classroom with student voice.
Teachers truly need to embrace the opportunities for student voice through project based learning. So much lip service is given to “teachers as facilitators” that the meaning is lost behind classroom doors. Students can emerge as contributing individuals during project based learning. Leaders naturally emerge and take charge of groups, artists find a need for their skills among their peers, those who are organized can share their talent, and through personal experience I have seen the quiet or non-participant become engaged when offered the warm welcome of small group instruction.
The only way to reach multiple intelligences and multiple personalities effectively in the same classroom is through a broad scoped authentic project with an essential question. The question must not simply be the teacher fishing for a set preconceived answer but must encourage the students to think out of the metaphorical box and go further with their own series of questions. The project must contribute to the field of knowledge they are studying and apply directly to their perceived world of importance.
Students come into our classrooms with a certain expectation of freedom. They enter the safeguarded doors of our classroom expecting to have a voice, expecting to demonstrate their previously mastered skills, expecting to direct the disscusion in the classroom toward their agenda. The want the teacher to monitor the disscusion, help them when they are struggling with expression, help them mediate problems in their groups, and show them new ways to answer essential questions.
According to Jacquelynne Eccles in her article; Control versus Autonomy During Early Adolescence, when teacher's view of adult control comes into conflict with their perception of expected freedom students ultimately become alienated.
Removing the alienation of the student voice in the classroom and allowing students to create the environment around them by creating authentic works of demonstrative knowledge will ultimately reengage students in the post-modern classroom. The proceeding is not so easy to say and even more difficult to employ. Teachers’ roles as facilitators are now developing authentic projects. Teachers must step up to meet this challenge if the action research that Cushman has presented has any value. The reflective students she revealed in her discourse could easily be sitting in any of our classrooms.