Reacting to Provenzo – Chapters 1 & 2

by Mr. Sheehy

Honestly, I had not touched my Provenzo text before I wrote the reaction to Hargreaves, which I at least find interesting, because a few of the questions I cited as important were prominently presented by Provenzo. Beyond those, I find myself reacting a lot to Provenzo – possibly because he summarizes the transition between modernism and post-modernism in a way that makes modernism seem ridiculously naive, and while I wouldn’t call myself a modernist, he sure does dismiss it with a bit of a high-brow, down-looking feel. And it seems to me that the intricacies and reaches of post-modernism as a philosophical position are more complex than “cultural changes that have taken place” since the 1960s. That’s not a definition, it’s a timeline, and I think it’s part of why I react.

Or I find myself reacting to his dismissal of Hirsch and the idea of a cultural literacy, because I don’t see him making a case for a viable substitute content (page 18). One can easily agree that our culture has particular ideological values, but if the values are truly changing, it does not mean that cultural literacy is fading as an important concept, but that the content one requires to be literate is changing.

Maybe it means not that we need to abandon Hirsch’s concept or all his curricula, but that we need to add to it what has become vital. Maybe more students need to know about Simon Bolivar or Wounded Knee (or Wikipedia) and fewer need to remember the precise differences between Athens and Sparta – I’m not sure, though it’s telling that Wikipedia has full articles on my first two examples but is begging for expansion of the Athens article and has nothing on Sparta – and I learned about them at some point in a social studies class – hmmm. But I suppose if I were to be a bit more realistic and maybe cynical, I’d say that conservative folks like Hirsch are not so much trying to say exactly how it should be, but describing how it is and saying, “If you want in on the powerful club, this is what you need to know.” That’s a sad thought and ultimately makes the purpose for learning a bit low in moral justification, but does sound a bit like what Hargreaves discusses for a knowledge society, does it not?

Anyway, I can’t go on all night about this, but I do want to add that the resistance theory resounds particularly clearly with my experience with the Native American community here in Rapid City (grad. rate of 57 or 66 percent or who knows, depending on the source).

dakota STEP

Here, individuals

consciously rejected the values emphasized as part of the traditional schooling process. In doing so, they asserted their own identities and the traditions of their social group. (p. 23)

It’s so easy to spot, especially with the boys – school is an example of the system (the white system, usually represented by white adults) telling you what to do and when to do it. Coming late, skipping class, not doing work – it’s like flipping the bird to the system that seems to have been built to destroy them – the one built by the society that has pushed their culture to edges and caused them to be outcasts. How can their families (extended families especially) be angry with them for refusing to play the game? It takes more than a bit of fancy curriculum change to battle this kind of resistance (and Provenzo in no way suggests a solution here, so that’s not an objection to him), so I’ll be interested in continuing a conversation with my classmates about what to do. Maybe we can solve the world’s problems in 16 weeks.

Provenzo, E.F. (2002). Teaching, learning and schooling: A 21st century perspective. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.