Beware! Teachers’ critical voices being silenced
Paper Edition | Page: 7
In his book Theory and Resistance in Education: A Pedagogy for the Opposition, critical pedagogue Henry Giroux
dubs teachers “transformative intellectuals”.
This is to say that teachers are informed intellectuals, not technicians; they are transformers of social conditions, not mindless conformists; they are not passive recipients who execute the agendas of others, but active agents of change.
Giroux’s idea about the status of teacher stands in a stark contrast to the recent furor over the abrupt relocation of three critical teachers in Makassar, South Sulawesi.
Having aired their opinions on and objections to alleged irregularities in their monthly teaching allowances to the Makasar Legislative Council, they were relocated to different regions by the Makasar Educational Agency without prior notice and without a clear raison d’etre.
Although it has been suggested that their relocation was due to the implementation of the joint ministerial decree by five ministers on the equity and distribution of teachers, it still makes little sense on what basis the three outspoken teachers were transferred to different regions.
Speculation, however, has been rife that the relocation was driven by the regional authority’s fury at the teacher’s indignant reaction to the cuts in their teaching allowances and the belated disbursement of these allowances, which could possibly be linked to corrupt practices.
The equity and distribution of teaching staff to different regions must not be executed via the relocation of active-duty teachers.
It can instead be done by recruiting fresh graduates from teacher-training institutes or other graduates with a strong educational background and channeling them to the schools (especially in remote regions) which are in dire need of teaching staff.
In fact, in the educational context relocating teachers from one school to another is not a good idea. The policy of teacher relocation undermines teaching as a highly intellectual activity – an activity which cannot be mechanically constricted by a centralized policy.
The relocation policy implies that teaching is a tightly controlled or monitored activity, and that teachers carry out their duties only, as another critical, Sri Lankan, pedagogue Suresh Canagarajah says, as “the agents of other people’s narrower interests” instead of adopting “egalitarian, empowering and ethical interests”.
This critique shouldn’t be interpreted as if all centralized policies are harmful and counterproductive, and therefore such policies are not needed. Policies are indeed important to help guide our practices.
But, if we pay our respects to teachers as “transformative intellectuals”, their critical stances on any policies which in their view stymie their path to attain quality education must be seen as invaluable and constructive input.
Thus, rather than diluting their voices, we ought to encourage them to engage in constant negotiation, by virtue of their intellectual wherewithal, social forces and educational experience, all of which shape their teaching profession.
The sheer irony of our educational system is that despite the government’s calls for teaching as a highly respected profession, teachers’ voices have still been sidelined and unheard.
Teacher’s intervention in educational policy, albeit critical and smart, have been diluted and balefully suspected. Furthermore, their critical voices are often silenced and played down.
This is understandably true, given that our educational practices adopt the technocratic social orientations to achieve the intended educational aims. Such an orientation is apt to view teaching as a mechanical, robotic activity, and teachers as docile practitioners.
With this orientation in mind, it is incumbent on us to critically argue that there seems to be a prevalent perception that teachers are deliberately turned into mindless conformists whose tasks are simply to further the interests of those who have hidden agendas in educational practices.
Yet, thanks to the establishment of teacher associations such as the Indonesian Teachers Association (PGRI), the Indonesian Independent Teachers Federation (FGII) and Indonesian Teachers Union Federation (FSGI), teachers should no longer be hesitant in voicing their ideas and critiques and defend their rights as informed intellectuals.
These associations can function as “safe houses” for teachers to freely critique and negotiate any centralized policy which may be inimical to their individual career in particular and to their profession in general.
Through these safe houses, they can also subvert educational regulations they may consider replete with hidden agendas. Finally, it is through these groups that they can also initiate resistance to the state’s dominant intervention in educational policy.
The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia. He is also chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching (IJELT).