Making Sense of the Common Sense

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” – Frank Zappa

In the chapter The Problem of Common Sense from the book Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, Kevin Kumashiro unpacks the loaded term ‘common sense’, and he discusses what it means in relation to schooling.

Now, in the chapter, Kumashiro never explicitly defines in his own words the term ‘common sense’; however, after reading the chapter, I interpret common sense to be a set of preconceived ideas as to how society should function.  These ideas, or norms, are so rooted within our society that they are unconsciously accepted.  In other words, these preconceived ideas are taken as fact–they are rarely questioned.  If someone does question these societal norms, they are often viewed as lacking common sense.  To illustrate this definition, Kumashiro offers the example of the North American education system:

“[M]any aspects of schooling … have become so routine and commonplace … [S]chools generally open from early morning until mid-afternoon, Monday through Friday, from the end of summer until the beginning of the next summer … At both elementary and secondary levels, classes in each subject generally last between one and two hours, meet every day or every other day, and consist of one teacher … and a group of about ten, twenty, thirty, maybe forty students” (33).

Here, Kumashiro demonstrates that our education system is an institution plagued by common sense.  Aspects of schooling such as the duration of the school year, or even the subjects that are taught in schools (typically English, science, math, and social studies) have become so routine that society rarely questions if we could, or should, be doing things differently.

As a future educator, I believe that identifying, and more importantly, questioning common sense ideas in my teaching is crucial for two reasons.  First, if I rely on my understanding of common sense in my teaching, I risk being unconsciously oppressive in my actions because different people have different ideas as to what constitutes common sense.  Classrooms are so diverse in terms of students’ ethnicity, religion, family environments, socioeconomic status, etc., so it is fair to say that not all of my students are going to share my understanding of common sense. Therefore, if I push my beliefs onto my students, I am dismissing any alternative perspectives as irrelevant or invalid.  This idea relates to the attempted genocide of First Nations’ culture when Western-European knowledge was treated as superior to First Nations’ ways of knowing.

Second, educators need to pay particular attention to common sense because it goes against what we are trying to achieve in the classroom–critical thinking, and the exploration and expression of ideas.  As a future educator, I believe that it is my job to push my students to question and challenge societal norms, rather than accept them unconsciously.  Furthermore, educators need to be constantly challenging the common sense of teaching because education is not a one-size-fits-all mould.  We need to adjust our teaching according to the learners in our classroom, which sometimes requires new ideas and resources.  Ultimately, by challenging the way society tells us that things are supposed to be done, we promote change within society.

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