Prior to reading Kevin Kumashiro’s article, the definition of common sense seemed, well… common sense. Self-evident. Hardly deserving of a definition, even. Isn’t common sense simply what everyone knows to be true? Moreover, doesn’t everyone know what common sense really is? The irony. These assumptions, as Kumashiro’s article demonstrates, is exactly why common sense can be so problematic: the term acts as a glib, and often harmful, deflection of close analysis and critique. Ironically, Kumashiro’s article valiantly offers the type of thoughtful critique of “common sense” that the term itself attempts to eschew: while the article positions the author’s early understanding of “common sense” as “facets of life” that “everyone should know” (Kumashiro XXIX), this definition is soon complicated by the revelation that these normalized facets of life are, in fact, contingent upon the unique social environments from which they stem. Moreover, the deceptive everydayness of “common sense” knowledge, the article suggests, is often cemented through biased traditions constructed by, and favouring, privileged and politically influential classes of people. Kumashiro would remind us that knowledge is political, and the path knowledge takes to being deemed self-evident is a path often marred by a privileged class’ oppressive tendencies. (I am reminded, here, of the historical rise of public education during the industrial revolution: common schooling features such as bells and corporal punishment were normalized, with the intent of molding the working classes into ideal factory workers. Many of these industrial features are common in classrooms today, their very prevalence keeping them out of sight.)
Common sense, then, is not as inclusive as previously thought. It is not necessarily what “everyone should know,” but rather a constructed tradition of the normalized practices and beliefs of a dominant (and privileged) portion of society. At its worst, “common sense” is exclusionary by nature: the establishment of a set of norms and practices deemed self-evident in one culture has the potential to exclude norms and practices of other cultures, casting them off as “nonsensical” by comparison, when they are in fact perfectly ordinary in their own cultural setting. Kumashiro’s article thus offers teachers necessary perspective on fostering an inclusive learning environment. Furthermore, Kumashiro warns teachers to beware the bias of “common sense” as an obstruction to critical analysis. It is, after all, a teacher’s duty to equip students with the critical tools to analyze and critique the world in which they live.
In closing, I offer you this: the bias of “common sense” hides subjects worthy of critique from view like a white sheet hides a creepy antique puppet collection in your basement. “Why do you keep that creepy puppet collection there?” asks a friend. “It’s just always been there,” you reply, indignant in your embarrassment. You don’t disturb the puppet collection, you think, aghast: It’s common sense. Later, though, your friend’s innocent question prompts you to sell the antique puppets, which were always subtly creeping you out, and you are able to repurpose the basement space into a nice guest bedroom. Cool. What was once a space reserved and arranged for old relics becomes a welcoming room for real, living, present-day guests.
Your friend’s fresh eyes helped you make a positive change. Moreover, your friend was able to identify that creepy puppet collection probably because they didn’t have one in their own home. We should all welcome these fresh perspectives.