When the Teacher Becomes the Student Again

Idealism and perspective.

Two words and ideas that have come to form the foundations of my research and practice.

Yesterday, at the end of the first meeting of my 15-person route on politics, development, and democratic education (PDDE), the head of the route, who is also now my personal supervisor, told us that we would have to dig deep within ourselves to find a place that allows us to keep our idealism in the face of an onslaught of heavy criticism. I smiled as I wrote down her words in the cover of my notebook.

I smiled because it’s what any passionate teacher does. We work tirelessly for our students–our children–in the face of a relentless onslaught from callous adults, blinded school administrators, and a bureaucracy that has tried everything to ensure that a joy of learning is stomped out of the school systems. It would make even the biggest and warmest of hearts fall prey to the dark depressions of October onward. And it takes support from colleagues and the faces of your students to keep that idealism that things can be fixed, day in and day out.

But then again, that’s just the representation and perspective I have come to adopt as the reality of my life. I understand that there are different value systems, different viewpoints in life. What I loved most about the introduction to my course was that they honored those different perspective and want for us to deeply engage in that.

During one session they showed us a map of the London tube. It was a very dense map of all the stations that the tube has and looked like it covered a large part of London. Then, the instructor showed us another map. This map was a geographical map of the London tube. It showed us how many areas in which people would think they lived far from, they were actually direct neighbors of the people in that community. The map also showed us all the areas that were vastly missed by the tube and went without underground rail service. The third map the instructor showed us was a map of the wheelchair accessible service of the tube. There were very few stations that were wheelchair accessible, and it was obvious how hard it would be to get from one point to another in a wheelchair on the tube. In fact, when the tube was out of service for awhile and people were complaining about the stops that were not operating, one handicapped individual said that it was what the tube looked to them every day. That’s perspective.

What the instructor challenged us to was the idea of representations of truth. She said that the more we know–such as in the case of seeing different viewpoints of the map of the London tube–we would question the notion that sources are reliable. She pointed out that he more we knew of those maps, the more we were willing to look at things differently.

We have to challenge the representations that exist. For so long, on a macro and micro level, there has only been the voices of those in power. We have to find the sweet spot between knowing that what is represented can be skewed by those in power, but also acknowledge that as humans, we need to represent ideas and issues in order for people to understand them. It is a problem and a paradox all in one. I have always been taught by my mother and the professors that I have come to treasure that those are the questions that determine the role of the historian, the researcher. Oftentimes, I don’t know if I am doing any of this right. I do know that I take my role as one who represents and whose representation are taken seriously very much to heart. I want to be the voice of the marginalized, but I don’t want to BE their voice either.

It is a careful road to walk on. I look forward to the discourse and the challenge.

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