Classroom culture – another perspective

Last week we read and analysed classrooms around the world and I think that was one of the most interesting sessions we have had so far. We tend to take classrooms for granted because after all a classroom is …well, a classroom! You can go to the four corners of the world and you are very likely to immediately recognise ‘a classroom’. However, as usual, appearances deceive. There are indeed many similarities amongst classrooms worldwide, but there are also as many differences as there are different people, cultures, histories, religions and societies

I grew up in Brazil in the years marked by very poor human rights records, censorship, intense political propaganda and a positivist philosophy that permeated the entire society. I was brought up in a working class family where everyone was very happy of keep away from ‘politics’ and understandably afraid of anything that could be considered ‘subversive’. Subversive, meant basically anything which diverged in the slightest degree from the mainstream ideology – from party politics to the sort of music you listened. Questioning authority was not an option, being it impersonated in your teacher, your school director or, more importantly, in your parents. Schooling had the function of infusing nationalism and obedience. We were supposed to memorise the names of each president and minister of the Republic, the civic dates and events and to know by heart the various anthems for each patriotic celebration. Society, family, school and education were overtly intertwined in a way that is not so obvious in more democratic regimes. According to Mercer (1995),

To understand how both teachers and learners contribute to teaching-and-learning we need to take account of the social and cultural relationships involved. Education never takes place in a social or cultural vacuum. Schools are (…) part of a wider society. (1995:47)

My personal culture is influenced by my school experiences and how I was brought up to see and understand authority, knowledge and the function of education. My experience in those formative years helped to shape my assumptions and perceptions of what education should be and, especially, what it should not be. Propaganda education had an extremely powerful counter-effect on me. What is more relevant now is to observe how it also stretches its arms to the classroom here at Marjon, for it partly explains some of my own attitudes, behaviour and use of language in class. It also sheds a lot of light on how I see, judge and react to my colleagues’ opinions and positions.

Having said so, I also recognise that the story of my school years is tinged with hindsight gained through years of teaching experience and professional reading. As Bolton (2005: 2) puts it, ‘Stories are the mode we use to make sense of ourselves and our world (…) our stories can only too easily be essentially uncritical.’ But so can be the accounts of classroom observers, even when there is hard data and recordings because facts are not only ‘there’. They are presented in a context and in a text. In my opinion, what is really important is to realise that classrooms and our reading of their cultures are deeply rooted both in the world outside their walls and in the worlds inside ourselves.