Classrooms as Third Spaces

By Imagining America | September 11, 2013

Melissa CrumBy Melissa Crum, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Administration, Education, and Policy, and 2013–2014 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores the idea of third spaces of engagement between communities and campuses, a topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 4–6, in Syracuse, NY. This post’s focus: Developing Educational Spaces and Techniques for Youth Empowerment.

Third Space can harness esoteric cultural evolutions and methods that satiate double binds to reconstitute funds of knowledge into critical pedagogical forms. I have found this most evident while working with Mosaic, a low-income African-American community-based homeschool cooperative.
 Third Space is a metaphorical space where participants are historical actors using their personal narratives to reconceive their present and future. Within a Third Space, participants form learning communities of instructors and peers who critically write in response to their sociohistorical lives. These sociohistorical lives contain contemporary experiences, with which they have both intimate contact and understanding, and historical information, to which they are vaguely connected yet is also relevant to their sociopolitical context.

Within these Third Spaces, superficial celebrations of cultural and decontextualized discrete historical information are avoided. Rather, they are transformative spaces for co-constructed problem-posing knowledge creation, where laymen’s erudition is transformed into scientific qualitative theory to explain socio-historical and political phenomena among non-dominant groups. Funds of knowledge trouble what and whose knowledge is valuable. Thus, in Third Spaces, laymen’s expertise is at a premium. It aids educator-researchers in conceptualizing their students’ communities from a holistic perspective that acknowledges their collective everyday resistance. As educators form reciprocal relationships between communities and parents, funds of knowledge become evident and can be used for community revitalization via the classroom. In sum, funds of knowledge can be applicable to non-traditional school settings because of its emphasis on community, family, and education. Mosaic Homeschool Cooperative is an example.

Funds of knowledge can inform and transform perspectives of valid knowledge reminding parent-teachers that their knowledge is valuable and the double binds in their realities are important for Mosaic students to understand and grow from. Double binds are the tensions formed when available tools, concepts, tactics, and strategies become obsolete for satiating the contemporary needs of a particular group. Therefore, group members working in and through tension produce new, innovative resources, thus ensuring that they are adequately equipped for the challenges they are presently facing. Mosaic is the product of a double bind, because parents found public education to be culturally irrelevant for their children. Parents resist local governmental forces, seeking to shape student learning through community resources and funds of knowledge.
 Each parent has unique funds of knowledge that could be utilized as subjects of lesson plans.

For example, Mosaic parent-teachers include a midwife, a holistic nurse, a vegan caterer, a reflexologist, a former public school teacher, a loctician, a real estate agent, and an entrepreneur. There are also parents who grow their own food, sew, and make crafts. These skills can be used to foreground traditional academic subjects, assist students in developing their own creativity, and serve as real life examples of Third Space resistance to dominant culture occurring in the community. By making connections between parents’ occupations, education objectives, and change in the community, students and parent-teachers begin to form relationships and make double binds transparent by promoting questions, solutions, and alterations about anomalies, phenomena, discrepancies, and hidden cultural treasures in their environments.