Defining the “Good” Student

In the chapter “Preparing Teachers for Crisis”, Kevin Kumashiro addresses what it means to be a student in contemporary society’s commonsensical education system.

To me, society’s common sense idea of schooling is very much a traditional model of education that prides itself on memorization and regurgitation of information. Paulo Freire, a critic of the traditionalist approach, calls this the “banking” model of education, saying “[t]eachers ‘deposit’ ideas into students, who become receptacles or ‘depositories,’ waiting to be filled” (Roberts, 2000, p.54). In other words, a traditional model of education is one in which the teacher simply transmits subject matter to students who are expected to passively receive and memorize the content, and expected to repeat the content on an exam to prove what they have ‘learned’. Therefore, a ‘good’ student, according to society, would be a student who complies with this commonsensical notion of schooling. A ‘good’ student would be one who takes in the teacher’s lecture passively, yet attentively, and who is able to repeat the content––exactly as it was presented––back to the teacher during an assessment. Essentially, in this traditionalist approach, there is no capacity for original thought or critical thinking. In fact, a student who did this would be considered a ‘bad‘ student according to society’s common sense ideas of schooling.

By establishing a definition of a ‘good’ student, society both privileges and disadvantages certain students. Curriculum, or what is taught in schools, is a reflection of the dominant norms in society. For instance, in many schools today, math and sciences are taught from a Western world view that values a systematic, concise, departmentalized approach to these subjects. However, in many Indigenous cultures, math and sciences are taught from a holistic approach––one that focuses on the interconnectedness of the universe. Essentially, although there are many different ways to teach math and sciences, our curriculum reflects the Western approach because it is the dominant norm of our society.

That being said, students who are considered ‘good’ students are often those whose knowledges and experiences are reflected in the curriculum. These students are privileged because it is easy to be a ‘good’ student when your understanding of the world is reaffirmed by what is being taught to you in schools. In this sense, there is no need to question the curriculum––its common sense. Typically, these students are white, middle-class Christians because they are the dominant norm of society, thus the curriculum is tailored to them. In contrast, many minority groups are disadvantaged by the definition of a ‘good’ student because their prior knowledges and experiences do not correspond to what is being taught in schools.  As a result, these students might question a concept and be labelled as ‘bad’ students, when they are simply trying to understand a unfamiliar idea and locate it within their own perception of the world .

The problem with this commonsensical idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ student is that it hides the oppressive nature of our education system. We are made to believe by society that if a student understands a concept, they are a ‘good’ student. Similarly, we are made to believe by society that if a student does not understand a concept, they are dumb, or a ‘bad’ student. Essentially, what society does is it instills in us a victim-blaming ideology in which we blame the student for their misfortunes. However, the problem with this is that society removes itself from the equation altogether; we never stop to analyze the education system itself and the ways in which it produces structural inequality by benefiting certain kinds of students and disadvantaging others.

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