Making Sense of Common Sense

Making Sense of Common Sense

When we think of common sense we think of things we believe everyone should know. It is the way things “should be”. We think of having common sense to brush our teeth, to get dressed in the morning, to wear warmer clothes in forty below winter weather, and more. Collins dictionary defines common sense as “your natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way”. We believe everyone should have a level of common sense, and are often quick to judge others when their common sense fails to equate to our own. 

Image by nugroho dwi hartawan from Pixabay 

In The Problem of Common Sense, Kumashiro defines common sense as what everyone considers “normal” or the status quo. We all have a different normal that is influenced by many factors including the society we live in. Everyone – from all backgrounds and places in the world – has their own way of doing things. Our attention must recognize this truth. In a rural classroom in Saskatchewan, what one student from that small Canadian town may recognize as common sense may be different from a student from a bustling city in Japan, or a small village in Tanzania. Our common sense makes us feel comfortable as it is what we are used to, however, it can also unknowingly engage us in oppressive behaviour.

“The insistence that we ‘use our common sense’ is really an insistence that we view things as some in society have traditionally viewed things and want to continue viewing things. Insisting that we use our common sense when reforming schools is really insisting that we continue to privilege only certain perspectives, practices, values, and groups of people.”

Kumashiro, p. XXXVI

Kumashiro entered Nepal with an unspoken understanding of helping schools there see the benefits of North American teaching methods (p. XXXIII). However, Kumashiro’s view of teaching was challenged when a curriculum model of “lecture-practice-exam” (p. XXXI) was what was normal for schools in Nepal. From Smith’s article this is seen as the transmission and product models in that teachers and textbooks transmit knowledge, and students have little voice. Students in Nepal learned from the textbook and followed a strict timeline they knew needed to be adhered to in order to pass. This was not necessarily what Kumashiro saw as the best way of doing things, and therefore had to wrestle with a new understanding of “common sense” in regards to education. While we do have the “lecture-practice-exam” style in North America, I believe we are striving towards more of an environment where students are encouraged to speak, share, and collaborate rather than just memorize and repeat the answer, as Kumashiro experienced.

As Katia stated in lecture “[c]urriculum is provided/shaped by the environment – context and culture matter”. It is important to recognize that neither Nepal’s schooling, or Canada’s schooling is best for all. Those are two unique societies and we cannot enforce one way of doing something over the other. One of the drawbacks of Canadian curriculum is just that – we have ingrained ways of doing things in the classroom that we believe to be best. We have certain expectations or goals of what students are to know from one grade to the next, as Smith writes, “[w]hen students are able to demonstrate certain skills, they are deemed to have completed the process” (p. 3). We often fail to recognize the widespread areas students excel in. Furthermore our “one size fits all” teaching methods can have underlying oppressive nature in some material.

By paying attention to the “common sense” of those around us we learn the bigger picture of knowledge around us. If we ignore the fact that there really is no one “common sense”, we make uncalled for assumptions and can harm those around us. We cannot assume our students walk into the room with the same knowledge or understandings. Therefore, we need to be intentional in the way we present materials in school systems, learning from those around us, willing to change and adapt as we go to help all learners.

5 thoughts on “Making Sense of Common Sense

  1. Hello!
    I really enjoy how you used a quote, and a picture to explain your thoughts. You explain your thoughts thoroughly and in an excellent manner. I enjoy that you made connections with the class lectures.

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