Ira Shor: “Education Is Politics: An Agenda for Empowerment”
Scholarly Article 2: Nelta Choutari April 2009 Issue
When we say that NELTA is a non-political organization, we use the word “politics” to mean something that has to do with politicians, political parties, and political ideology that divides people into parties and party affiliations. But there is another important meaning of the word “politics”: any practice, problem, or phenomenon as seen from the point of view of social or institutional policy. We can say that the practice and policy of requiring English as a medium of instruction in private schools involves a social “politics” about education. Issues of economic class and social power, of values attached to gender and ethnicity, of prestige attached to the same knowledge gained through different languages, and such other subjects are deeply political in the context of our education system in Nepal. Yes, we should avoid politics in education in the first sense of the word described above. But if we think we are doing good to our students or our profession by avoiding the discussion of social, economic, cultural, ethnic, gender, or such other value-based questions about teaching English–or teaching anything for that matter–then we are being unintellectual, insensitive, and irresponsible, to say the least. In his article “Education Is Politics: An Agenda for Empowerment,” Ira Shor discusses how we can and must socially as well as intellectually empower our students not only by engaging ourselves in the discussion of politics inherent in the design and system of education but also by encouraging students themselves to ask those questions, because the practice of education that pretends to be non-political is usually impractical, unjust, or even oppressive. Any education system tries to socialize and shape students’ knowledge, behaviour, and values; therefore, it is dishonest to not allow and help students think critically about social issues that affect their learning and lives–yes, even in high school. The question is not whether to make students critically conscious about the purpose, problems, and politics of education; the question is how to. In a context like ours, we might need to do so carefully, slowly, intelligibly. The goal of this awareness teaching, on top of language or information teaching is, Shor argues, democratic participation, critical awareness, and affective involvement of the learner in the process of learning. Only awareness IN the students, not just teachers, can help students participate in helping them and their future society overcome the political status quo and injustice inherent in today’s educational system and society. The article is posted on NeltaMail.