Uncommon Teaching in Commonsense Times: A Case Study of a Critical Multicultural Educator & the Academic Success of Diverse Student Populations

Article excerpt

To me, it would not be easier for me as a human being to run off pre-made worksheets for my kids to do. It would be an assault on my senses and everything that's inside.


Rae, a 5th grade teacher, challenges the commonsense approaches mandated in the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that frequently requires teachers to run-off premade worksheets of standardized curricula as a panacea to closing such educational woes as the gap in achievement between the White, middle-class students and the largely Latino population that she teaches. Her senses are assaulted by the thought of participating in a "homogenized" curriculum (Sleeter, 2005) which has resulted in pedagogies that fail to meet the diverse needs of students. She rejects the commonsense that "schools teach these things and students do these things" (Kumashiro, 2004, p. xxii) and demonstrates how quality educators problematize those ideas, or the "official knowledge" that is internalized as "commonsense" (Apple, 2004).

By repositioning commonsense with uncommon teaching, teachers like Rae challenge what it means for students to learn and teachers to teach by helping their students understand themselves in relation to others and their world (Allen, 2002, p. 110). Teachers who reject the commonsense of practices such as pre-made worksheets, scripted lessons, standardized knowledge, and boxed curricula and programs are needed to challenge the dominant paradigm of the standards movement and actively advocate for a more critical, multicultural curriculum. Practicing uncommon teaching is not simply something that someone does, but rather is something someone is always becoming.

Exploring perspectives on how teachers like Rae become teachers who challenge commonsense with uncommon teaching offers insight about how to nurture, support, and sustain perspectives and possibilities for creating uncommon solutions to what have been situated as commonsense problems. When she brings herself to her uncommon teaching, we learn that while there are unique elements that exist in multicultural classrooms like and unlike Rae's (Marri, 2004), there is an interdependency of multiple complex aspects that create, support, and sustain teachers who engage in uncommon teaching. Understanding this interdependency informs teacher educators to create their programs with the integration of multiple, differing curricular offerings, pedagogical support, and educational life experiences.

Perspectives on Uncommon Teaching

Uncommon teaching offers the possibility of re-centering education on the students and away from the commonsense of scripted and restricted curricula to promote acquisition by students of a critical consciousness in order to become agents of change for social justice. Allen (2002), in his discussion of critical theory, describes consciousness as the "state of mind that acts upon an awareness of the circumstances of oppression" (p. 108). Apple (2004) argues for the responsibility of educators to problematize the "official knowledge" that teachers internalize as commonsense, even as they discuss how it defies all of what they have been taught and understand as good teaching.

By repositioning commonsense with uncommon teaching, teachers act with the intention of transforming reality and actively advocate for teaching that reaches out to rather than preaches to students (Sleeter, 2005). Teachers who resist curriculum driven by high-stakes testing and related policies anchor their practices of resistance in situating commonsense knowledge as uncommon and impossible, so that they are professionals who are empowered to invoke professional judgment in order to meet the diverse needs of their students (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006).

Many researchers have taken an interest in the application and implementations of pedagogies that counter the oppressive, scripted curriculum derived from the standardization movement and situate teaching and learning against commonsense (Kumashiro, 2004) even as they name it critical, multicultural, antioppressive, and/or social justice pedagogies (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2006; Agee, 2004; Arce, 2004; Crawford, 2004; Marri, 2005). …