Behind the Scenes of TBB Curriculum: #2 Education Unit

If you missed the first blog of our series, Behind the Scenes of TBB Curriculum, we encourage you to go back and read it here.

We will now explore the second unit in Thinking Beyond Borders’ curriculum, the Education Unit.  While structured similarly to other TBB curriculums, this unit stands out to many students who feel they have more directly applicable experience within the subject, as they have often spent the previous twelve years learning in classroom environments before taking their gap year.  So why does this topic remain so tremendously important for us to examine?

The short answer is that education is more than just schooling.  It plays a vital role within the lifeblood of our societies and also crucially influences every movement for change.  It has the potential to reduce poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, social and political oppression.  However, when we look back through history, we can see that while there are countless examples in which education serves as a vehicle of empowerment, it also has the ability to oppress people through explicit brainwashing, and implicit and systemic maintenance of societal norms and structures like socio-economic class.

Throughout the unit, TBB students grapple with these concepts, as they dissect the dynamics of relationships among students, teachers, the curricular content, and the societal structure over-arching them all. Wielding education as a tool for change requires our students to develop a clear understanding of education’s purpose and a critical approach to its execution. To ground seminar discussion, TBB students partner with teachers in local schools to serve as teaching assistants and observers within classrooms. The experience can be eye opening, as it highlights how different educational systems can look around the world. Essential questions discussed throughout this unit include:

  • What is the purpose of education?
  • Does education oppress or liberate?
  • Are students and teachers equal?
  • Does everyone need the same education?

These questions push students to view something as familiar to them as education, through an entirely new lens. Compared to TBB’s Environmental Unit, the Education Unit can be highly theoretical in nature, as students already have a wealth of personal experience from back home and from the schools they visit on program to draw from.  Readings include short selections from Brazilian author, philosopher and education theorist, Paulo Friere, who is commonly seen as the father of contemporary educational theory.

So what are students actually taking away from this unit?  Below are some questions and takeaways from our 18/19 Global Gap Year student cohort, which they wrote while going through the education unit:

  • Education is most powerful when it evokes a powerful emotional response.
  • To be a liberated learner, one must unlearn a lot of previously learned skills, behaviors, and information.
  • How can I bring this critical thought into the start of my college experience? In other words, how can I start school on the right foot by understanding and taking advantage of my power as a student?
  • What is the first step to make schools more equitable?

Are you interested in education, sociology, and movements for social justice, equality and equity?  This might just be the unit for you.  TBB’s education unit lends a foundation for us to better understand our individual impacts within systems of oppression and liberation worldwide.  Whether you wish to go into a career in education or not, TBB students leave this unit with burning questions for college and newfound empowerment as life-long learners, which forever alters the way they think about their role within the learning process and their next steps in higher education.