Common Sense: A Common Problem In Anti-oppressive Education

The definition of common sense is, “[t]hat which is reasonable or sensible; that which appeals to or is in accord with instinctive understanding or sound judgement” (“Common Sense, n2.a”). In the reading “The Problem of Common Sense” by Kevin Kumashiro common sense is defined in relatively the same way. Unlike most people however, Kumashiro does not see common sense as an advantage when it comes to the education system. He wrote, “[c]ommon sense limits what is considered to be consistent with the purpose of schooling” (xxxv). He suggests that common sense creates a false sense of security within school systems that has led to an oppressive education system that is marginalizing many of its members. Paying attention to what is considered to be common sense in the education system is vitally important because of this.

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When it comes to fighting oppression within our school systems we need to largely leave what we consider to be common sense at the door. This is easier said than done however. As Kumashiro points out challenging commonsensical ideas is difficult for two reasons. The first being that “it is difficult to recognize those ideas that are prescriptive,” largely due to social pressure to conform, and secondly, “commonsensical ideas often give us some sense of comfort” (xxxv). Due to this difficulty it’s imperative that we consciously search out commonsensical ideas, or norms of schooling that contribute to oppression and marginalization of “others on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, language, age, and other social markers”(Kumashiro, xxxvii). Doing this can help eliminate a direct symptom of common sense within the education system being, “it has become normal for us to experience oppression without realizing we are doing so” (Kumashiro, xxxvii).
A particular example I can think of in my own personal education experience were oppression occurred was in my high school biology class. We were discussing the formation of life on earth billions of years ago. My teacher started the lecture with a dismissive comment about creationism, saying something along the lines of “I don’t care if you believe in creationism, we are going to be learning about life on earth via science” and added a dismissive wave of her hand. I didn’t think much of this comment, mostly because at the time I wasn’t even aware of what creationism was, until a close friend mentioned that she felt offended. The comment had oppressed her based on her religious beliefs. Me and many other students in the class never thought to question this teacher because we believed the creation of life on earth via scientific processes to be common sense. We had all fallen guilty to not questioning commonsensical ideas for the two reasons mentioned above, “it is difficult to recognize those ideas that are prescriptive”, largely due to social pressure to conform, and secondly, “commonsensical ideas often give us some sense of comfort” (Kumashiro, xxxv). I realize now that this is a perfect example of an area that contributes to oppression that a teacher needs to consciously search out and question to avoid.

Kevin Kumashiro opened my eyes to the dangers of common sense in the education system. His approach of questioning commonsensical ideas to avoid an oppressive educational experience is a strategy I never thought about as being effective, but now it’s definitely something I plan put into effect in my future career. We need to challenge common sense in order to challenge the oppression impermeated in schools and identifying these areas of common sense is the first step.

References

  • “Common Sense, n2.a” OED Online. Oxford University Press, 2019. Web. 7 January 2020.
  • Kumashiro, Kevin. “The Problem of Common Sense.” Teaching and learning toward social justice. Routledge: London, 2009. XXIX- XLI. online.

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