When “Common Sense” Isn’t so “Common”

9537775212_92624974aaLennart Tange via Compfight cc

“Common sense” is a familiar phrase in the Western World. We use it to encompass various things that, as a culture, we think everyone should know.  Don’t cross the street before looking both ways. Don’t leave your purse unattended. Don’t go walking in a bad neighbourhood after dark. And while these “common sense” solutions certainly aren’t invalid, problems arise when we, as a society, constantly make “common sense” synonomous with “this practice has been in effect for decades and is therefore sound”.

That is to say, with the very origin of common sense comes a group mentality; common sense gained its very definition because everyone in society learned to follow a certain practice. And while this common sense certainly comes in handy for certain situations, it also proves problematic for others. Indeed, if a practice deemed “common sense” has been practiced for decades, who is going to question it? Very few. And the chances are, those who do question it will be scoffed at by the other 90%. Even though the world continues to evolve, it seems that our “common sense” has not grown with it; now, many of the things that we perceive as “common sense” are actually outdated.

As we see in the article “The Problem of Common Sense,” there are issues with relying on “common sense” solutions in schools. First off, it doesn’t allow us to adapt to the changing environment in the school. Schools have always been a part of our society but, within the last ten years, we are experiencing big changes in the demographics of our student population. However, many schools are still using the same practices that they did twenty years ago, saying “this is what we’ve always done.” Standardized testing – especially in the United States – is an example in which many say that this “common sense” practice just isn’t working anymore. Yet, those who want to go outside of the box are often scoffed at and their ideas dismissed as counterproductive to the goals of school. Where does it end? In many ways, the education system is in a slump; new ideas aren’t welcomed, yet the old ideas are simply not working.

Another intriguing point that this article makes is that we, as a society, rely on common sense because it provides us with a sense of comfort. The train of thought goes: “This is what we’ve always done so how could what we’ve always done be wrong?” People don’t like to stray from their comfort zone and they certainly don’t like to think that what they’ve been doing for the past years has been wrong. Yet, when so much of the world is changing around us, one must recognize that we, too, must change with it; much larger problems arise when, entrenched in our ways, we refuse to adapt to the environment around us.

Another facet of this “common sense” problem is the origin of it. As I said before, common sense is a product of society’s own viewpoints and experiences. However, isn’t a major problem in society today that not everyone is being heard equally? That it is only those of privilege and status whose opinions matter? In schools where there is increasing diversity, this poses a problem because those from India, for example, might not regard certain situations as “common sense” like those native to Canada do. Yet, society still greatly presses solutions of “common sense” and perhaps this is just an excuse for those of privilege to keep pushing their views. The article likens this thought to a sort of cultural imperialism and this, of course, can easily lead to different types of oppression. It is exactly this kind of oppression that we, as future teachers, have to work together to prevent. Every student deserves to have their thoughts heard and disregarding their experiences because they do not coincide with white society’s definition of “common sense” is a sure way to ensure that they do not reach their full potential.

With this, I am in no way saying that teachers are purposefully letting things such as racism, religious intolerance or sexism permeate into their lessons. What I’m saying is that in this day and age, with globalization and our culture moving at a rapid pace, there needs to be more awareness of the sort of dangers that arise from blindly obeying “common sense”. Instead, we need to be constantly challenging what we believe to be easy solutions, analyzing our responses to certain situations and always being open to different approaches or ideas. With that, and only that, can we hope to create an environment in which all of our students feel equal and ready to learn.