The trouble with ‘common sense’…

As we begin the semester for ECS 210 at the University of Regina we start with a reading that introduces us to the ideas and issues surrounding anti-oppressive education and the implicit biases of a post-colonial view of education and curriculum. As we read the introduction to Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice by Kevin K. Kumashiro we are introduced to a slightly different version of the term ‘common sense’.

The standard definition of ‘common sense’ that is used colloquially is something that is understood without having to be expressly defined. It is knowledge that should be understood by just about everyone. It is having good sense and being practical. Examples of this type of common sense would be things that your mother might tell you- “don’t go outside without a jacket in the winter”. This type of ‘common sense’ is not that type that Kumashiro takes issue with. For Kumashiro there is another type of common sense. Kumashiro defines common sense as that which we “take for granted… or what everyone should know” (Kumashiro, 2009, XXIX).

His first look at this type of common sense is the experience he has while living in Nepal. His cooking, his daily social habits, the importance of the town fountain are all examples of concepts that seemed to be taken for granted in Nepal but seemed so foreign to him. His meals aren’t right and his social interactions are contrary to the ‘common sense’ of the Nepalese villagers he interacts with. This demonstration of the difference between two cultural versions of ‘common sense’ is further complicated when he begins to attempt to institute a new way of teaching to Nepal based on the “American Way”. Kumashiro and his “Peace Corps colleagues embraced the idea that the “American way” was better than the “Nepali way” (Kumashiro, 2009, XXXII). However for the people and students in Nepal the common sense way of teaching was not the “American way”. This insistence that the “American way” was the right was a form of “cultural imperialism” and was privileging concepts and beliefs of the Peace Corps and Americans in general over those of the Nepali people.

Kumashiro points out that as in Nepal, “many aspects of schooling in the United States have become so routine and common place that they often go unquestioned” (Kumashiro, 2009, XXXIII). This unquestioned belief in the value of something or doing things because it is the way it has always been done is where the issue with common sense takes root. The issue with doing things because they are commonsensical is that if we don’t stop to assess and look at why we are doing things, or how they could be seen by an outsider’s perspective we often end up missing the implicit biases, such as racism or sexism, that could be propagated by continuing the process. As Kumashiro points out, “research suggests that the official views of what and how schools should teach often reflect the perspectives, experiences, and values of only certain people in society, especially those who have traditionally been privileged or currently wield political influence” (2009, XXXIV). This reflection of privileged values often results in implicit or tacit oppression. As we look towards becoming teachers it is important that we not only pay attention to the issues that surround the idea of common sense in the curriculum or the practices of teaching in our society but that we pay attention to the insidious ways that those perspectives that challenge common sense are silenced.

As we look towards creating a society that embraces anti-oppressive education it is imperative that we not only pay attention to but that we challenge the way common sense is used to create a “moral imperative” of what schools should do and start to look at what schools could do (Kumashiro, 2009, XXXV). By looking at the potential for change within curriculum and professional practices we can eliminate the commonsensical approaches to education and start to create an anti-oppressive space that is open to all students and free of the implicit biases that are hidden in curriculum and historical teaching styles that privileged those who wield political influence. By challenging commonsense in education we can see the places where tacit and implicit racism, sexsim, etc has infiltrated and impacted how we representand members of our classroom, staff, community etc. and how we can make changes to remove that systematic oppression and create a truly free and inviting space for the education of all of our students in a way that empowers and affirms them.

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