When one teaches, two learn

How Common Sense Defines a “Good” Student

After going over the two readings: Kumashiro’s Preparing Students for Crisis: What it Means to be a Good Student and Painter’s A History of Education, there is a lot to think about in regard to what a “good” student is according to commonsense, who is privileged by this definition, and how is the “good” student shaped by historical factors. From my own experiences in elementary, highschool, and university the “good” student in the classroom is the student that actively engages in a lesson without being disruptive, gets good grades, and behaves according to what society wants. 

Kumashiro explains that a “good” student is one that adheres to the values that mainstream society chooses to place on specific types of behaviour, knowledge, and skills. In examples from his previous teaching years these behaviours are exemplified. His student denoted ‘M’ was a stereotypically “bad” student because she didn’t enjoy conforming to the structure that the classroom often brings. She had a hard time sitting down and being quiet during class times, often would speak out of turn, and not want to share with other students. Stereotypically, she was a “bad” student. However, she is only considered a bad student due to the societal expectations of what a “good” student should look like. Additionally, good students and educated students can be viewed in a very similar manner. Kumashiro states:  “educated students were those who ended the school year with more than they began, and effective teachers were those who helped fill students’ minds. Learning was about learning more.”. This often leads to the assumptions that teachers must only fulfill the expectations of having students develop more knowledge and learn more than they already knew. In the paper, Kumashiro goes on to discuss the feeling of discomfort when learning. Students come into the classroom with prior knowledge about concepts and situations, and there may be times when this prior knowledge may be challenged by what is being taught in the classroom. A “good” student would be one that acknowledges and desires to understand concepts to the expected or ‘status quo’. 

The students that are privileged by this definition of a “good” student, are those that often are part of the status quo, or those who do not fall into the categories of the oppressed. Unfortunately, “whether in or out of schools, students were and are learning things that reinforce an oppressive status quo”. This statement by Kumashiro reinforces the idea that students, and even educators, that come from a place or a background of privilege are the ones that gain advantage from the current education system and are reaffirming oppressive narratives. Additionally, the definition of a “good” student also supports students that don’t have exceptionalities in the classroom. One example of this would be a student who has behavioural problems; furthermore, these students may attain amazing grades, but due to them not reaching the expectations of society for behaviour, they would be considered a “bad” student. 

Historical factors have definitely shaped what a “good” student should look like in today’s society. As Painter explains, “education does not aim to develop a perfect man or woman, but to prepare its subjects for their place in the established order of things”. Although this quote doesn’t directly mention mainstream society or the status quo, it does mention that education is meant to be a preparation to enter the “established order of things”. Education has been viewed for a very long time as a way to prepare the younger people in civilization to enter society as functional members that are meeting the status quo. Painter is quite critical of other societies and how they chose to historically prepare their students to enter society, but fails to realize that Western cultures continued to approach education and creating the “good” student or functional member of society for decades. 

Throughout this detailed exploration of what makes a “good” student and how the definition of a “good” student provides advantages to certain groups and was shaped by historical factors led to some large realizations. An educators job is not simply to create students that fit into society, it is an educators job to help students critically analyze the world around them and guide them towards challenging the status quo.

Kumashiro (2010). Against Common Sense, Chapter 2 (pp. 19 – 33) – “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: What It Means to Be a Student” 

Painter (1886). A History of Education

1 Comment

  1. Andrew MacPhail

    I really enjoyed reading your article and have to agree with your point that education is not simply just a tool that can be used to make one type of student who learns from one type of instructional strategy. This reading to me highlights that as educators we need to think critically in order to ensure that we can pass this information on to students as well. To many students, challenging the status quo brings with it new experiences as historically they have learned to be part of it for many years.

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