liberation and library instruction – part 1 of ?

WorldCat recordI would really like to respond to this call for papers, and since abstracts aren’t due for several weeks I’m using it as  a reason to do some reading and re-reading.  Right now, it’s A Pedagogy for Liberation, a dialogue between Ira Shor and Paulo Freire.  This isn’t the most famous Freire, that’s undoubtedly Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but it’s one of my favorites because it is a dialogue — and they talk about the benefits of that format in language that’s very compelling – all about co-creating meaning:

Dialogue belongs to the nature of human beings, as beings of communication.  Dialogue seals the act of knowing, which is never individual, even though it has its individual dimension (p. 3-4).

And since I initially described this space as a place where I might do some pre-writing, and that concept is entirely tied up in the idea that doing that pre-writing in a place that is not my own head might be useful and valuable in a way that internal reflection is not — I’m going to indulge in putting some of the ideas this re-read is sparking down here.

I got through the first two chapters last night (and for the record, this book is very short, and very readable).  And I have mostly been thinking since about the question of motivation and what it means for libraries.  Freire and Shor agree that motivation has to be located in the here and the now of learning – not in some future benefit or some future activity.  Freire says, “I never, never could understand the process of motivation outside of practice, before practice (5).”  Shor echoes this with, “I’d emphasize that motivation has to be inside the action of study itself, inside the students’ recognition of the importance of knowing to them (6).”

I find this really compelling.  I also think is something I need to think about a lot more in terms of library instruction because much of the motivation we provide to students in library instruction sessions is “learn this and you’ll see the benefits at some later time.”  We deal with that in a limited and imperfect way by requiring that students have a research assignment that we can teach to, but that just moves the point at which the motivation kicks in a little closer.  It doesn’t actually put it in the here and now.

There’s a scene in Dazed and Confused where my favorite character Cynthia says “God, don’t you ever feel like everything we do and everything we’ve been taught is just to service the future?”  That line is why Cynthia is my favorite character and that line is what Freire and Shor are talking about here.  And that line really describes some of my anxiety about library instruction sessions, particularly those of the one-shot variety in basic skills courses that are themselves presented to students as disconnected from the “real” work they will be doing in the disciplines.

This puts the motivation two steps away, right?  Learn these basic skills so that you can perform well in later classes and you want to perform well in those later classes so that you can get a good job. Can we really blame students for feeling like nothing they do in school matters now, and can we blame them for resisting when they can’t see a direct line between the thing you’re teaching and that elusive “good job” goal down the line?  We need to give them something better, and I’m not sure what.

Or maybe I should say I’m not sure how.  I do think I have a sense of the what. I think we all have a sense of the what.  We teach this stuff because we find it intrinsically fulfilling, after all.   I talked about this briefly in the gaming post the other day, and I also talked around this concept today over at ⌘f — there is motivation to be found in research and learning.  Those processes are compelling and even fun.  But I don’t feel like I get there very often in my interactions with students – they may get there by themselves later because of something we did, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Freire and Shor argue that part of the process of finding this here and now motivation is not trying to do it alone.  In other words, by watching and listening to students and seeing what they are really doing, what they are really interested in, and what they are really motivated by, you can co-create a learning experience that will be compelling and motivating to all of the learners in the room – students and teachers alike.  I think there’s something in that for library intructors.

This means creating environments where students feel comfortable enough to act authentically and to show their true motivations.  The one-shot library session?  Probably not.  Maybe in the hands of a better or a different teacher than I am it could be, but I’ve never mastered the art of immediate (within 50 minutes anyway) relationship-building that would require.  But as librarians, we’re not limited to the classroom – we also have our libraries. And out in the library, I think, we might get some of the answers we need, if we’re willing to listen.

One thought on “liberation and library instruction – part 1 of ?

  1. Pingback: links for 2008-09-17 : Camille’s Conversations

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