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Voice within Voice, within Voice (Voice Paper #1)

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After reading Laurie Finke’s article entitled “Knowledge as Bait: Feminism, Voice, and the Pedagogical Unconscious”, I was reminded of something we discussed in our silence class, which is the notion that the classroom is a space in which learning needs to accommodate the student body’s diverse voices. What I understood from this discussion was that the fundamental building blocks of voice are found within the social context of that voice, and that the classroom is the physical space in which voice is found and complicated simultaneously. Thus, teachers who neglect the myriad of contexts that constitute voice are not creating a space in which all students can both be treated equally and receive an equal education. I found it very problematic that Finke’s analysis of the power of transference consisted of having to, in essence, force individual students to let go of their socially rooted voices in order for their “true voices” to shine. I found the latter to be problematic because there is an inherent contradiction in the idea of having a true voice. Voice cannot be removed from the social context that influences it and therefore constitutes it. Thus, I suggest that in order for individual voice to shine, the role of the classroom must be taken into consideration. A classroom must be one in which the power relation between student and teacher should be dialogical, as Paulo Freire refers to it in the dialogical method of teaching, and one in which every student’s voice is heard. According to Freire, the dialogical method of teaching is a technique that allows the student to enter into dialogue with a teacher so as to reflect on reality as he/she makes and remakes it. He states: “to the extent that we are communicative beings who communicate to each other as we become more able to transform our reality, we are able to know what we know, which is something more than just knowing...through dialogue, reflecting together on what we know and don’t know, we can then act critically to transform reality” (Shor, Freire 99). As we toil with how to define student voice, we must take into consideration the social influences that affect our views and opinions.  

As we saw with the student example in Finke’s article, one could argue that her student’s voice was silenced, because she was not given the opportunity to shine in the way that she was so accustomed to doing. Although Finke tells us that her student ultimately found a voice not reflective of her teacher’s voice, it seems to me that her student simply learned the new game. In other words, her student found yet another way to please her teacher. Finke argues that feminist teachers “seek to give ‘voice’ to those who have been silenced and alienated by traditional pedagogical practices that privilege hierarchy, authority, ‘rigor’, and exclusivity, and that value abstract and objective knowledge over subjective and experiential knowledge” (Finke 12). But, as we see in the E.T. example, and even in our class, it is difficult to remove the traditional practices from the individual who has not only learned the code to manage such an education, but has learned it so well, that it has now become a tool by which to succeed as well as a life accomplishment. How do we sustain a non-hierarchical classroom where the individuality of a voice can be expressed and valued  in a world where students need the teacher to both possess and retain a position of power so that we as students know that our teacher is knowledgeable enough in a subject to teach it (Delpit 1988), and where we as students understand that our voice is valued in the teacher/student interaction as well as in the academic world in general? I think the complexities that come with trying to define student voice and eliminate teacher influence on voice can be largely attributed to broader social institutions including capitalism.

As Bryn Mawr students we have come to often refer to capitalism as the cause of many social problems. It is helpful here to layout what exactly it is about capitalism that affects education, specifically in relation to voice. First and foremost, capitalism is a system of thought influenced by economics, time, and technological advancement that relies on the social dynamics of race, gender, class, and other dimensions of differential power to function. In other words, capitalism only works when the people who are part of a capitalistic society use differences in race, gender, and/or class to manipulate who or what makes money, who or what controls time, and who or what manages what we as a society deem as advancement.  In the case of education, it is easy to see how capitalism plays a large role in the unequal distribution of education and the consequential unequal distribution of power among the population. Capitalism is also evident in the unjust form in which we test to mark what constitutes educational achievement.

I think that if we are to tackle the issue of voice in the classroom, we must first tackle the question as to what we strive to achieve as a society and for our society in relation to what the purpose of education and teachers should be. If we continue to teach our students that education is a linear process by which we gain access to “successful” lives via the reward system of western capitalism, how do we then expect students in all levels of education, including higher institutions such as Bryn Mawr, to let go of traditional practices in the classroom, when in the end that is what is useful? Furthermore, if we utilize the role of the teacher to maintain rules and structural relationships, we promote dependence on structure and learn to suppress our voice in efforts to achieve a capitalist goal that is misaligned with efforts to increase the students’ awareness of their individual uniqueness.

I think that a crucial step in combatting the problem of voice in the classroom and the dilemma that arises when capitalistic thinking positions teachers and students in a hierarchical system is to teach students early on that their voice matters. We should consider the dialogical method of teaching beginning in elementary school. Encouraging such ways of thinking will not eliminate hierarchical student teacher relations in a classroom, but it will aid students in the future when they take on issues of voice. It gives them exposure to learning how to deal with macro issues such as capitalism.