Roger Simon: Teaching Against the Grain
In Teaching Against the Grain Roger Simon explores the horizon of possibility. Simon has us looking at a vision of the future rooted in our own present, through our curricular practice. Further he is saying that our curricular practice is rooted in our personal history. Simon when speaking of a vision of the future says, “…such dreams are never neutral.” (p 42)
So, knowing this, what does Roger Simon say we need to do? I think it is best described in his own words: “While I am suggesting that the objectivity of knowing must be reconstructed to emphasize the partial, embodied, and therefore limited character of knowledge claims, more is at stake than self critical partiality…[I] t requires that one hold open for assessment those practices which generate one’s claim to knowledge.” (p 16)
This puts the teacher undeniably in control of his or her own teaching and further gives them the responsibility for their pedagogy. It begs us to “seriously take up the question of how a pedagogy is constituted” (p 14) Simon makes an impassioned plea for us to develop an adequate vision of education as a moral practice and to “assess and pursue knowledge in relation to their power to contest axes of material and symbolic violence.” (p 17)
Roger Simon is also expanding our view of education and giving us allies in our fight against hegemonic practices and the task of social transformation. In putting teachers in the category of cultural workers, Simon is lumping them with workers in “cinema, theatre, television, advertising, architecture, public health forums, print journalism, popular music, story-telling festivals and religious study and ritual.” (p 42) He is enlightening us as to the presence of these allies because he feels “it is important to appreciate that others are fundamental for challenging normalized horizons and expanding the possibilities we have for reconstituting our sense of what our futures might be.” (p 45)
He talks of semiotic production as at the same time educational and political and takes away, for me, thoughts of politics being only the ‘big p’ variety. We are touched by politics in many ways. Simon points out “semiotic production is a vital ingredient in helping to coalesce particular groups of people into expressions of identity and solidarity required for specific struggles for equality of possibility.” (p 45) He also allows the realization, on our part, that we meet these semiotic activities daily and that they are not always consistent in their nature. This does not seem to be of concern to Simon, who sees these activities counter-discursive possibilities in providing “a framework within which the modes of representation and comprehension that underpin existing forms of dominance … can be modified, challenged, refused and replaced.” (p 45) He does however, warn that we must be cognizant of the fact that capital and interest play a big part in semiotic production and that these are connected to power in the community.
The interesting part for me comes with Simon’s connection of cultural work with progressive pedagogies. He reinforces the critical pedagogical stance and shows us a view of education in which it engages pupils “so as to provoke and challenge … their existing views of ‘the way things are and should be’… [in an attempt] to take people beyond the world they already know but in a way, that does not insist on a fixed set of altered meanings. (p 47) Simon asks us some questions, which should be engraved on our hearts: “As cultural workers with progressive pretensions, what is our view of learning and its relation to questions of power? What is the pedagogical relationship we desire between ourselves and those who engage our work? With what intent do we offer and encourage our own modes of knowing and their resultant claims, our own structures of feelings and their ethical sensibilities?” (p 46)
But we do not have to go it alone. Simon leaves us with the following advice: “There are possibilities for alliance. An alliance would mean that we could on occasion cooperatively share and interrogate our strategies and insights and perhaps begin developing a clearer sense of how to interweave our provocations.” (p 49)
Roger I Simon, Teaching Against the Grain: Texts for a Pedagogy of Possibility, (Toronto, OISE Press) 1992.
This is the first in a series of blogs that will look at the underpinnings of education and the thought leaders that have helped to inform our educational evolution.