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WELCOME TO MY REAL WORLD

Pedagogy is to good interactive teaching and learning in the classroom as critical pedagogy is to good interactive teaching and learning in the classroom and in the real world (see Note 1).

The publication of the first edition of this book enriched my life with new ideas, new friends, and a couple of surprises. The first surprise has been a group of questions which I am continually asked: What is it like to write a book? Where do you write? When do you write? What are publishers and editors like? What do they do? What do you do? This group of questions makes me relearn the importance of context, which we will talk more about in the section on Vygotsky in chapter 2. This group of question also makes me realize that many people want to write. Because of these continuing questions, I have chosen to begin this second edition with a peek into the context of my life as it relates to writing and thinking.

The first edition of this book was written in the midst of my real life. I was teaching fulltime, and most pages were written between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. and on weekends. I longingly watched other professors go away and write in peace during their sabbaticals.

The day I received my first copy of my first book was an important one in my life. That readers later asked so many questions about where I was and what I was doing at that moment amazes me. The truth is that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of my own book.

“You sure do clean up well,” the UPS man said to me that hot August day standing on the prairies when he realized that the package I had just opened contained a book with my picture on the back. He was used to delivering packages of books to me, but a book I had written was a new experience for him, and certainly for me.

“Can I take this copy home, just for tonight?” he asked. “I’ll return it tomorrow,” he promised even though I knew that he lived 100 miles away. He eagerly took the book from me and started to leaf through the new, clean pages. You can imagine a UPS truck with the side panel doors wide-open in August on the hot, windy prairies: Dust and dirt were flying in all directions, outside the truck and inside the truck. In fact, much of this prairie dust had come to rest on the driver’s hands, which were now rapidly examining my first copy of my first book.

This is not how I thought it would be for the initial perusal of my first book. I can still see the handprints on those virgin pages, and I can still feel the absolute joy we were both experiencing as our eyes (and his hands) devoured the pages. There we were, shoulder to shoulder, heads bent, standing on the prairies, laughing and debating who would keep the book that night. He reasoned that I had written the book, so I didn’t need to read it. I reasoned that I wrote the book; I want the book. Those fingerprints are still on those, now well-worn pages and remind me that things never quite turn out the way I imagined. Life is often filled with contradictions, ironies, and unforeseen joys.

My life in schools (McLaren, 1998) has been much the same (see Note 2). When I started teaching, I imagined that it would be predictable, controllable, and safe. I will teach, I thought; and they will learn. Like Edelsky (1996) writes, I was sure that I would be cool, mitigated, and detached; I was confident that every moment would be rational. My experiences in schools have taught me something different. Human relationships are at the heart of schooling (Cummins, 1996, p. 1). Indeed, it has been the passion and the personal interactions that have put the power in pedagogy for me. Although many of my experiences in schools are not as I thought they would be, it is only the study of critical pedagogy that made me realize that the potential of pedagogy is all about people. I thought my life in schools would be about me, teaching. I now think that Paulo Freire was right: Education is radically about love (N. Millich, personal communication, November 3, 1998; see Note 3).

Now, I am no longer, longing for a sabbatical; I am experiencing one as I write this second edition. Again I am having to unlearn some of my previously long-held assumptions, this time about peaceful sabbaticals. Once again I am reflecting on the amazing surprises, and even contradictions, in life and learning.

I am revising the first edition from my little writing nook on the second floor of our 1910 ranch house on the prairies during the winter of 1998-1999. My grandmother moved from a sod hut into this house in 1910; it must have been a castle to her. It is not a castle but comfortable, peaceful, and spiritual. The only source of heat is an oil furnace in the dirt basement; the hot air is vented through one large grate on the floor of the living room of the first floor. The grate is at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor, and my writing nook is at the top of the stairs on the north wall. I have a little electric space heater to keep my feet warm, and I write with a homemade woolen quilt wrapped around me. I often look out my north window to a dark and even threatening sky. The sun is now setting in the west at about 4:03 p.m., and we still have one month and 3 days before the winter solstice. The dark evenings are long, and I write whenever I can find time: mornings, afternoons, or nights. My goal is to be writing the last sentence as I watch the northern lights.

I always find it humbling to write about Paulo Freire. And sometimes, my real world is also humbling. Yesterday I was so engrossed in updating the section on Paulo Freire that I failed to notice that from my window which faces north, a truck was coming down the lane. Suddenly, I heard a loud banging on the outside door. I did a quick save on my computer, ran down the stairs, and went to the door. There was a stranger, a truck driver, who had a delivery for my husband. I quickly explained where he could find him and hurriedly said a good-bye as I wanted to get back to Freire. As I was closing the door and the man was walking away, he turned back and yelled to me, “You want to be sure to take dinner (the noon meal) to the field for your husband. I know he will be working hard.”

I returned to my writing about Paulo Freire, and the phone rang. It was another person I had never met. Here is our conversation:

“Hello,” I answered.
“Uh, hello,” he replied. “Is this the missus?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is your husband there?” he continued.
“No,” I answered.
“Well, I need you to go out to the fertilizer tank and find the serial number. It is on the tongue between the hitch and the jackstand. I’ll just wait here on the phone,” he clarified for me.

These ironic interruptions are reflective of my real world, which followed me to sabbatical. I am aware that most of my colleagues envision that I write in the pure peace of the prairies. Only someone who has lived here would understand when Norris (1993) speaks of the “silencing of the prairies.”

In the first edition, two concepts triggered the greatest reaction. First was the page I wrote on silencing. It is one of those pages that I know some will love and some will not. I have left it in this second edition. I can predict that the reactions will follow gender lines, although silencing takes place in a far broader arena: along lines of race, class, culture, ethnicity, and even geography as explained by Norris (1993). When we get to the part that caused the second greatest reaction, I will also alert you to it.

Did I stop writing and take “dinner” to the field? No. Did I stop writing and go out to check the serial number on the fertilizer tank? No. Most of my life I would have, and I would have smiled while doing it. Now, I say no, and smile at the amazing contradictions in my real world. I know you have them, too. The links between life and learning in schools become more and more apparent to me the longer I live. I believe that critical pedagogy has helped me see this.

Recently, I kept a running list of interruptions for three days. The list grew faster than my book, so I quit. On the yellow stickies of my computer, I made the following notes about other activities that went on while I wrote:

 

  • Looking out of my north window I have seen deer, antelope, fox, coyotes, eagles, hawks, wild canaries, and skunks. I had to stop the dogs from chasing the skunks.
  • We are remodeling the house and adding a screened-in porch; the carpenter does a lot of pounding, and he loves to talk to me about his artwork. In fact, he is an exquisite artist. If I were to describe for you his jewelry, carved from deer antlers, inlaid with various colors made from crushed rock, and outlined with ashes from a Lakota Sioux religious ceremony, you would all stop reading and try to find him to buy his jewelry. So I won’t do that.
  • The fax machine is beside my computer. In the past three days I received faxes on growing echinacea; faxes from professional organizations; faxes for political activities; faxes for fantasy football; and faxes about bulls for sale. This stack of faxes makes me think that there is a lot of diversity in my real world.
  • One of my grandsons is sitting behind my computer chair. He has just discovered a box that contains mounds of colored paper that had gone through a paper shredder. His delight is infectious. I muse on what is more important: playing with the paper with him or writing a paragraph.
  • I have cooked and served 9 meals and taken many coffee breaks in these three days. I used to think that I had to serve homemade cookies during coffee breaks. Now, in my more liberated phase of life, I serve M&M’s – the multicolored ones with almonds in the middle. I notice that people really do eat the blue ones first. As I cook and serve, I relearn what Hasselstom (1987) means: “In these days of working couples, I wonder if only farm wives still regularly cook three meals every day. It seems to me I just get well immersed in a story or a poem when it’s time to cook again” (p.80).
  • I have stopped to clean mud and manure from the porch, the kitchen floor, the living rug, the recliner chair, the bathroom – I am suddenly realizing that it apparently does not make it to the second floor bedrooms. It pleases me immensely to know that there is none up here where I write.
  • I have washed, dried, folded, and put away 7 loads of clothes. Water is so valuable on the prairies that I try never to wash unless I have a full load. The water is hard, and the whites yellow; the colors fade.
  • I stopped only once to help move cattle. It took 6 hours and was pure joy. Buttercup is the name of my horse. In chapter 5, I will tell you much more about Buttercup and power and fear of power.
  • I went for 4 walks with my dogs on the prairies. I am constantly amazed at the diversity of grasses. This makes me think:Prairies: the greater the diversity, the healthier the environment.Perspectives: the greater the diversity, the broader the thought.

    People: the greater diversity, the better the democracy. 

  • I had to explain to two men how to get to the field to change a flat on the tractor. The thought of changing a flat on a tractor made my real world seem simple.
  • I have had innumerable conversations with my husband about preparing the fields and prairies for next year. This always makes me reflect on how much we as educators are like farmers and ranchers. We prepare the soil; we plant seeds; we fertilize; we cultivate; we plow; we pray for a favorable season from outside elements. Critical pedagogy is very similar, and it makes us look more critically at ourselves and the role we are playing in the production (or reproduction) process. Critical pedagogy makes us see more clearly the effects of the environment. Critical pedagogy also gives us the courage to plow and the patience to wait.

I marvel at the outside influences on my life. I also marvel at the outside influences on teaching and learning. Critical pedagogy enables us to see those influences more clearly and to articulate them. Critical pedagogy also enables us to take action in our real world when necessary.

Now here is the point: each of us has our own real world. It informs us; it enlightens us; it amuses us; it challenges us. And, each of our worlds is a part of who we are. Each of our worlds contributes and enriches us and others. Our own unique real world is the culture we know best; it is where we feel most at home; we speak the language; we know the perspective. No one’s real world is the best; it is just what we know. No one’s culture is the best; it is just what we know. No one’s language is the best; it is just what we know. Critical pedagogy has enabled me to appreciate and celebrate others’ ways of knowing – even when I don’t understand and may not have experienced them.

First, I share my real world because you asked. Second, I share my real world for all readers who are future writers. You have a book inside you waiting to be written. You know it; I know it. You may believe that authors live and write in a world you will never know. Authors are people writing in their own world. Our real worlds are unique, busy, and often exhausting.

It is the legacy of my real world that informs my perspective. It is the legacy of critical pedagogy that gives me the courage to express my perspective. I am confident that critical pedagogy will encourage you to read and write your world.

Not only was I surprised that so many readers wrote to ask me questions about reading and writing in my world, but I was also surprised at the diverse reactions along gender lines. The irony is that one of my greatest fears with the publication of the first edition was that my feminist colleagues would feel that I had not been strong enough on our shared interests. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. My formal educational experiences have been in the world of multicultural and multilingual education; however, I am limited in feminist pedagogical academic study. A reader of the first edition once wrote to me: “It feels like you are reading us, while we are reading you.” However, when it came to gender issues, many readers were reading me critically. I was writing the word, and the readers were reading the world (see Note 4). Often in the first edition, I thought I was writing about dominant and dominated cultural groups, and readers were reading men and women.