Why Pay Attention to Common Sense?

In his book, Against Common Sense, Kumashiro defines “common sense” as assumptions that go unquestioned.  He explains that at the core of “common sense” is the belief that a particular concept is the way things should be or a given.

As a future teacher, I believe it is crucial to pay attention to what has become common sense because these common sense ideas are not truths.  Common sense is very much determined by culture, which means people from one culture will not have the same common sense understandings as people from another culture.  For myself, it is important to acknowledge that the way I have learned to do things is not the only right or natural way to do things; rather, it is one example of a way to do things.

The hidden curriculum, or what students learn in school that is not a part of the formal or explicit curriculum, gives many examples of these normalized, common sense understandings.  A few examples include having to raise your hand before speaking, having to line up to go outside, the idea that classrooms should be quiet, the idea that desks should be in rows, and the idea that elementary school teachers are females.  These are, for the most part, accepted rules or common sense understandings for what schools are like in Saskatchewan.  Moreover, I would venture to say that if one posed the question of why we do any of these things in our schools, many students and teachers would sputter, their answers would fall short, and they might end up saying something like, “It’s just the way we do things.”

I want to be the teacher who questions, challenges, and critically thinks about my notions of common sense rather than blindly accepting norms as the way things should be.  I think it is first important to understand that common sense is constructed, normalized, and limiting.  Kumashiro calls for activism to become a central part of the teacher identity, which means using vigorous campaigning to bring about change by challenging ideas that have become common sense.  He also calls for reconceptualizing social justice education so that it responds to and capitalizes on the ways that the political Right has come to dominate schools.  In other words, we must respond to and deconstruct our common sense notions as well as use the dominating common sense notions as tools for teaching about social justice.

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