Classroom Instruction: Ways of Knowing

As an educator, how well do you understand the Urban American school culture? By culture, I incorporate the many definitions used by Sewell (2005), culture as “learned behavior, an institutional sphere, a system of symbols and meanings, and as practice.” Is your mode of instruction in the classroom unidirectional or is there a respectful exchange of knowledge between Instructor and students? I raised these questions because as educators, we may at times view our students as vessels needing to be filled with ‘acceptable’ knowledge and be unaware that they may have a rich body of knowledge to contribute to the class.

Do you teach in a manner in which you try to get your students to dis-identify with their ways of knowing? In science, many educators do not acknowledge a student’s way of knowing science. Often times we teach within a framework that we ourselves were taught. Although this may not necessarily be a bad thing it can however enslave one’s mode of instruction within walls that are not always conducive to students’ learning. This is very much a reality in the teaching and learning of science. According to Baker (1996), “We who teach, or who write curricula, or work in the fields of theoretical science, were educated within a western scientific framework that pre-disposes us to easily dismiss the value of indigenous perspectives, suspecting that they might simply be ‘unprovable myths’ or ‘misconceptions’, but certainly not contributions to scientific understanding.” I am in no way trying to be pejorative of Western Modern Science (WMS), instead my attempts are to establish a definition of science that will give credence to the body of knowledge called Indigenous knowledge (IK), which has been described almost customarily with derogatory connotations. Although IK has shown to encompass systematic facts and truths that can be proven via the scientific method, WMS has and still is promoted globally in ways that are inimical to IK. As science educators, we have to understand ‘what is science’ and the many contributors of science (both WMS and IK).

I want to further extend this to ‘what is counted as knowledge?’ What are some of the contributions or ‘knowledge’ your students have brought to classroom discussions that you were not familiar or comfortable with? Have you ever considered a student’s way of knowing ‘contradictory’ to your way of knowing? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


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