Interactive 5.1 Orb of Complexity of Worldviews: People and the topics we care about are made of animate layers that move in complex ways. We see through different viewpoints into the centre of those complex interactions.
Inherited and Possible Beliefs
Schools are embedded with culture. Just like fish that might not realize they are swimming in water
(see Interactive 7.1), we as teachers, often don’t pay attention to the culture that surrounds us, the culture we breathe in and that we hold in our very bones. In their book on teaching global perspectives, two secondary social studies teachers, Merryfield and Wilson (2005) discuss the importance of distinguishing between surface culture and internal culture. They use the image of an iceberg as a metaphor. The ice we see above the water represents surface culture, how people behave in public; the way we dress, the food we eat, the art and architecture we create, and so on. Under the iceberg we can explore internal culture, our ways of being; the beliefs, values, attitudes, interpretations, and assumptions we hold (Interactive 5.1). Our internal culture is often “hidden” in that we are unconsciously engaging in it as we move through our day. Like fish in water, our habits and patterns, our ways of being in the world are influenced by culture all the time.
Many of our patterns of beliefs are inherited; we come into possession of particular qualities or characteristics as they are passed down or inculcated from our parents, aunts, grandfathers and the like. For example, you might have a tendency towards reading because your parents read to you, or you might enjoy debate because your family gatherings always included discussions of current events and politics. You may want to be a teacher because of all the stories you heard about your great grandmother’s one room schoolhouse, or you could have a strong interest in environmental education from the many camping trips your grandfather took you on. While some inherited beliefs might be genetic, in TI we are more concerned with inherited beliefs that are of a sociological nature.
Historically, western education is rooted in the European philosophical enlightenment traditions, in which secular rather than religious beliefs were supported and spread. Scholars of that day, such as physicist Issac Newton or philosopher Voltaire, cultivated and privileged the use of reason, objectivity, and abstractions. They trusted in empirical methods as the best means for arriving at “knowledge,” believing that value-free discourse was not only possible, but was also most desirable. This train of thought continued into the so-called age of modernity, in which there was intensification of rational thought as the best way to find truth, and pursue the rise of capitalism. Copernicus re-centred the universe with the sun instead of earth, Darwin established the notion of natural selection, and Descartes described how scientific knowledge could be built up in small steps.
Over time, post-modernism began to develop as a response to modernist ways of being. This is a philosophical stance in which people began to reject the notion that there is one global cultural narrative or universal truth. Within post-modernism, artists and philosophers explore how history and culture shape individuals. With a heightened understanding that pure objectivity in impossible, the role of expert becomes problematic. Philosophers such as Heidegger embraced the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity in order to move towards “dasein” or openness to being-in-the-world. Foucalt explored the relationships among meaning, knowledge, power, and social behavior suggesting that social constructs foster cultural hegemony, violence and exclusion.
I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how everything worked, and then make it work better. I fully expected that by the time I was twenty-one, some scientist, maybe my brother, would have taken a color photograph of God Almighty—and sold it to Popular Mechanics magazine. Scientific truth was going to make us so happy and comfortable. What actually happened when I was twenty-one was that we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima. —Kurt Vonnegut Bennington College address, 1970
Inherited beliefs continue to play out in various ways within educational institutions. We highlight four possible paradigms, or worldviews, that educators can choose to work from: Where might you see resonance with your own philosophical stance? Remember that you are not asked to choose one paradigm exclusively, and also that some people carry parts of many paradigms as their worldview. What is important is to locate where you are in relation to these or other paradigms. If we teach who we are (Palmer, 1998), we need to know on what ground we stand. What paradigm feeds your soul and translates into the work you do? What paradigm sets the tone of learning~teaching~researching in your classroom? What is the nature of the water you swim in?
Public education in Canada is founded on the “values and belief systems of the dominant cultural and linguistic class” (Goddard & Hart, 2007, p. 16), which draws heavily on an ideological foundation originating in the United States and United Kingdom. In this system teachers play the role of a cog in the machine that limits space for students to explore learning and ways of knowing that fit in an essentially Eurocentric model of education. Under positivism, schools often operate as a hegemonic force, to “promote a common homogeneous culture (i.e. the White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, rural culture of the 1800s)” (Villa and Thousand, 1995 as cited in Walker & Quong, 1998, p.86), thus privileging certain students over others. Yet if you simply walk into a classroom, you can observe that schools are a dynamic, complex, and diverse space (Murakami-Ramalho, 2008). The literature confirms that Canadian society faces many pressures given the quickly changing terrain of demographics and schools are tasked with responding effectively (Anisef & Kilbride, 2004, p. 10).
- Truth is objective, external (subjectivity is problematic, effort to predict and explain to improve control)
- Knowledge can be separated into pieces (reductionist)
- Learner is like an empty vessel to be filled
- Teacher’s role is to transmit knowledge (upholds expert/novice hierarchy)
- Learning is TRANSMISSIVE
The progressive tradition is embedded in the constructivist notion that knowledge and meaning are derived from individual experience (Piaget, 1969). Moving away from a view of the learner as a relatively inert vessel to be filled, individuals are seen instead as being able to engage personal prior knowledge and beliefs towards actively constructing meaning of their world. This constructivist view has significant implications for teaching students of diverse cultures in that it acknowledges each individual as bringing their own contextual understanding, experience, and positioning to the learning environment (Villegas, 2008). Here, the learner’s worldview stems from the learner’s experience. Educators in the progressive tradition place diversity in a positive light, seeing the gifts that each child brings to the classroom. There are continued efforts to reduce the contextual influences that inhibit the individual as well as to step away from a deficit view of culturally diverse learners.
- Truth is subjective, internal
- Knowledge is based in personal understanding
- Learners are like flowers in a garden
- Teacher’s role is to facilitate individual learning
- Learning is INDIVIDUAL and CONSTRUCTIVIST
Social Justice Paradigm
The term “social justice” can be difficult to define (Grant & Agosta, 2008), as different people use it in a variety of ways (Goodlad, 2008). The social justice paradigm is one based on principals of solidarity and equity and can be defined as both a collaborative process and a goal that includes a vision of society where “members are physically and psychologically safe and secure” (Bell, 1997, p. 3). Multicultural education is one way that social justice is enacted in schools and has been described by Sleeter (cited in Chávez & O’Donnell, 1998) as “a process of constructing engagement across boundaries of difference and power, for the purpose of constructing a social world that supports and confirms all of us” (p. xii). Teachers who work from a social justice paradigm hope to include their K-12 students in actively making schools better places to be. Moodley (2001) states that multiculturalism in Canada “values the cultural mosaic” (p. 802) and that the two main approaches in this country are the “socio-pathological perspective” (the deficit view) and the “relativist model” that “stresses that all cultures warrant equal respect and values” (p. 807).
- Truth is socially and culturally defined
- Knowledge is co-created
- Learners are unique flowers within a variety of gardens
- Teacher’s role is to create a culture of equity within diversity
- Learning is SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONIST