Common Sense? Not So Common.

Who knew that assuming something to be “common sense” could end up oppressing a group of students in a school, or in a classroom. Common sense is seen as something one should just simply have, or know. To those who know or have it, common sense seems incredibly simple, like, “Shoes go on your feet.” Depending on your background, or even your field of discipline, something that might be common sense to one group of people, may not be common sense to another. There are Indigenous cultures around the world who do not wear shoes. They may have something on their feet, but nothing like what North America may call “shoes.” If they were presented with a typical sneaker, do you think they would know what to do with it if they had never really seen a shoe before? Probably not.

For example, something that I’ve recently learned is that in some First Nations cultures it is impolite to look someone in the eyes while they are talking, or telling a story. In the dominant culture that is implemented in our school system, it is considered impolite to not look someone in the eyes while you are speaking or listening to them. Now imagine how many First Nation students have been given the lecture by their teacher, “Look at me when I am talking to you, and look at me when you speak.” Imagine how poor these students felt when they were only doing what was taught to them as something polite when speaking or being spoken to. Yet, being a white female in Canada, I would have assumed eye contact while speaking to be common sense.

What is common sense? It is not a wide-spread belief or piece of knowledge that you obtain just by existing. It is a cultural construct; a piece of knowledge that to your culture, is a common, widespread understanding. As a teacher, it will be important to remember that not all of your students will be coming from the same background. Therefore, not every student will have the same “common knowledge” as you.

Kumashiro’s, “The Problem of Common Sense,” is a good read, and may broaden some horizons. Check it out if you have the time!


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