Common Sense May Be Not Common at All

Kevin Kumashiro is our guest speaker this week. He is the founding director of Anti-Oppressive Education at University of San Francisco.

In his researches, he tried to track the movements in education, and how they changed the way education had been. He explained that he is more interested in strategies and how they changed the policies, less interested in policies themselves. He knows common sense is not universal, but how certain policies can become commonsensical? “If you can make your policies sounds commonsensical, you probably could get your policies passed.” So he tries to intervene the public debate, impact on the public debate: what is becoming the common sense?

His “fun” (he said he didn’t think it’s fun, but he liked the word) from academia lies in the fact that academia helps him to see himself as a participant, also helps others to see themselves as participants. People usually feel so alone, like when scholars write their articles, they often shut themselves in their office and write. Academia needs scholars to distinguish themselves, find their uniqueness. Kumashiro stated, knowledge production happened only through conversations. It reflects what we look like. So we don’t feel so alone. “We feel joyful of our jobs.”

His comments of gaps in the curriculum, gave me a clear understanding of how he interprets common sense. “Students don’t come into our classrooms with nothing going on in their head. They’ve already learned something in their world. Anytime you try to teach something, students have to unlearning something, then learn what you are teaching. It’s not an easy process. It requires to put something of myself aside, then learn. Learning always include unlearning. Unlearning is always uncomfortable. We always try to ignore the uncomfortable situations. The resistance of knowledge is the problem.” In other words, what the teacher thought should be “common sense”, it’s not “common sense” to the students; and one student’s “common sense”, is not another student’s “common sense”. In fact, common sense, is not common to everyone, it varies from one person to another.

In that case, how to build common sense? We have to realize those gaps, and make them visible to the students, too. Many of those gaps are hidden, they are included in the hidden curriculum: “The hidden messages are confidential. They are more powerful. And they’re always there. It’s not the words, it’s the actions.” He suggested we should deconstruct the curriculum, the textbooks, find out whose voice they convey. Let students watch those gaps, could help them remove some of those gaps.

He told us the uniqueness about this center, is that besides trying to de their own research, the scholars here are studying and responding to other researches. He said, every issue in education would have a research on both sides of the question. So it comes to some issue, they would look into all the researches about that area, not just one or two studies, then decide how to carry out their own research.

As Phil asked for suggestions for Madison, or scholar activists in UW-Madison, he said scholars could think about how to take advantage of the positions in the university, to activate the media and the public. As the flagship of this state, UW-Madison is a prestigious platform for scholar activists. “Let your scholarship to come out to the public, to the university, to the media, and to the policy makers. Those are the parts that ought to be in academic work.” He believes Wisconsin defines the way of academic. There’s a role for UW to play for pushing the state, push the profession. And he urges UW to take that position.

From all the scholar activists I’ve seen so far, this is my “common sense” about scholar activists: They believe academic should serve the public and the society, not/not only in academic terms, but/ but also in practical terms, to make a change in real life. They are trying very hard to get the public engaged in the discussions, by actively sharing their works with the public, asking for their eyes and ears, in order to create something better for the world through their researches, but not limited by their researches.