An Argument for Democratizing Knowledge in America

I just read a book “Back to school: Why everyone deserves a second chance at education” by Mike Rose.

Back to School book cover

The students described in this book could be my own and I find that rather refreshing in a book about higher education!

There was something really powerful about reading the words of students like mine in the pages of this small book. It reminded me that our students all have various reasons for being in our classrooms:

To be a role model for my kids. To get a career to support my daughter. I don’t want to work in a crappy job all my life. I want to learn to read and write. I want to have a better life

I teach in the Child Development program. I’ve always thought of my courses as serving both academic and occupational goals, and I have treated both goals equally. We are a career program, and yet the intellectual life of my students is extremely important to me. I want my students to experience many and varied opportunities for cognitive growth in their time here. I also have a higher responsibility to the young children my students will ultimately serve so I work hard to make sure my students understand developmentally appropriate practices in the profession of early childhood education. This book has reminded me of the importance of developing an academic intellectual life, but it has also reminded me of the intelligence of occupational work.

It’s midterm by the way, in case you haven’t noticed! This is the time in the semester when many of us lament that students are unable or seem unwilling to take advantage of the support resources available to them such as office hours, tutoring, and the like. The book helped me to remember that my personal approach to learning in terms of actively seeking information and forcing myself to take charge of my own educational experience by any means necessary can be really different from how students approach my class.

As Rose states,

Many students with privileged educational backgrounds are socialized from day one to seek out resources and engage members of institutions to help them attain their goals. This seems so much like second nature to most academics that we forget that it is a culturally influenced, learned behavior.

…teaching is more than transmitting a body of knowledge and set of skills but also involves providing entry to the knowledge and skills and tricks of the trade necessary for fuller participation in learning.

It’s a quick read, but it has inspired me to think differently about my students and my teaching. I think it’s worth a look. Let me know if you want to borrow it!

2 thoughts on “An Argument for Democratizing Knowledge in America

  1. This sounds like an interesting read.

    The knee-jerk response is to flashback to undergraduate years and remember all those professors who appeared to know so much about a subject but almost nothing about how to share that knowledge with us undergraduates.

    Interestingly, the folks who are reading your post are those of us who managed to navigate both bad and good teachers and currently find ourselves in the driver’s seat at the head of the class (apologies for that mixed metaphor).

    It would be interesting to ask everyone to pitch in one anecdote about a bad/good undergraduate experience — something that led to self-awareness in navigating the cultural apparatus of higher education — and then see if that can be mapped onto a tip sheet that we can share with our students here. That wouldn’t be difficult. If students could read brief anecdotes about their professors facing the same challenges as undergraduates. . . well, we could make that available to our students on Blackboard or something.

  2. Sounds like a great read, cnepstad. I’ll have to put it on my list. Will have to get to it after midterms.
    Hope to read more reviews from you in the future. 🙂

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