Response to “To Teach: A Journey, in Comics” by Bill Ayres

Bill Ayres, in his book “To Teach: A Journey, in Comics,” makes clear his framework for teaching and learning. For him, teaching can only begin once the teacher knows and accepts the whole child. This must be true for each student in the classroom. Ayres endeavors to know each of his students by joining them on their journey of learning. He wants to share in their curiosity and exploration. In Ayres’s conception, standards and mandates are antithetical to education. It is the teacher’s responsibility to subvert the administration’s attempts to normalize and standardize the classroom and the students.

I connected to something in Ayres’s book. An underlying attitude of disrupting the establishment, of questioning oppressive power structures drew me in. This attitude was apparent in the way he approached his classroom and the other teachers featured in vignettes throughout the book. Bill Ayres approaches teaching as a radical act, and that is my goal. Ideas of teaching equity and in order to foster equity, of fitting mandates to your students’ needs, of the infinite irreducibility of knowledge, and the importance of education to being alive all strike at the core of what I’m trying to do.

Education is about making the world more accessible for everyone–like building a ramp for the class’ box turtle, Bingo.

“Standards are benign. With a little extra work, teachers can figure out what they want to do, develop it fully, then map it on to what they need to do” (p. 78). Standards do not have to be mandates from on high that completely alter the classroom environment. At their best, they should be the invisible landmarks that help orient the journey.

“Knowledge, like love, is something you can give away without losing a thing” (p. 44). This connects directly to my identity. As a poly person, I live my life based on love as an infinite irreducible quality. This direct comparison to knowledge feels so incredibly apt.

“Good schools are places where education is understood to be a matter of life and death” (p. 101). I’ve heard this echoed in DC Teaching Fellows and by those for whom education was the means by which they discovered their life. Education is the central resource for empowerment.

On page 60, a featured teacher, Avi Lessing, reflects on an interaction that happened in his classroom that day. A black student called out a white student for racist comments. The white student, upset, fled the classroom. Avi asked himself, as he watched, “Are these conversations useful? Is it appropriate to open all these doors? Are there some things better left unsaid or unexplored?” This is an important question for a teacher to ask, and they should ask it sooner rather than later. Not only are conversations of racism and oppression useful and appropriate, they are absolutely necessary. We cannot pretend that the reality of the world does not exist in our classroom; to do so perpetuates all of the privilege that oppresses others. It is a disservice to declare certain topics out of bounds. That would send a message to students that their curiosity and desire to learn on that topic is somehow inappropriate. As Ayers writes, “White privilege is a hidden curriculum throughout our society…no neat conclusions are reached, only the risky road of honesty and responsibility, the necessary passage to community” (p. 60). We will not end prejudice and oppression in our classroom. We can only facilitate the discussion so that our students might go forth with the realization of the inequities of the world and be moved to do something about it.


References

Ayers, W. & Tanner, R. (2010). To teach : the journey, in comics. New York: Teachers College Press.



 

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