MMCP: The “Critical” in Critical Pedagogy

march” by Fio; CC BY-NC 2.0

MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. For this first week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP), we will be discussing Chapter 2 of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and this pedagogical moment from Emily Dickinson. However, feel free to read as much or as little of Freire’s book as you are able. We promise there will be no reading quizzes. Our discussion will begin on Twitter at #MOOCMOOC on January 21 at 5:00 PM EST. We also encourage you to write blog responses each week during MMCP and post links on the hashtag. We consider your posts primary texts alongside the “official” assigned readings.

One of the most difficult things to reconcile as critical pedagogues is the exercise of our own authority. Yet it is there. In the interest of learners, we often enough jeopardize our own philosophy in order to “free” minds. The contradiction is as obvious as it is obstinate. At times we are too ready to drag learners kicking and screaming into their own learning process. Or, in the company of our fellow academics and teachers, we insist on our philosophy and praxis, laying out line-by-line the wrong things our colleagues are doing in their classrooms or with each other.

In the field of creative writing — my native field — there’s a maxim: show, don’t tell. It means that story should come through illustration rather than exposition, involving the reader in what John Gardner calls the “fictional dream” where she can hypothesize and imagine for herself the themes and meaning of a work. Telling, on the other hand, lays bare the elements of fiction, never lulling the reader into a willing suspension of disbelief, with an aim toward moving the reader to the conclusion the author intends.

Critical pedagogy could be thought of as a philosophy of teaching that shows more than tells. “Telling” equates to what Freire calls “the banking model” of education — a model that leads away from liberation and down the road to oppression. In the banking model, “the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits” (53) — deposits of information made by the teacher into the student. The opposite model (showing, if you will), is a model of inquiry, where learners are free to ask, explore, experiment. “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention,” Freire writes, “through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” (53) To “tell” is to rob the learner of her capacity for inquiry.

And yet we tell, if not the learners in our rooms, then each other. Critical pedagogues can sometimes be the worst kind of tellers (pun intended), circulating around the world-as-classroom and depositing truisms about good teaching praxis into the minds of their colleagues and students. Indeed, there are moments when the ‘critical’ in critical pedagogy can be synonymous with ‘accusatory,’ ‘fault-finding,’ and even ‘censorious.’ We judge from our pedagogical perspective the praxes of others. This is a ledge that we must all back away from.

Jesse Stommel has described critical pedagogy quite often and in many different places as a pedagogy of generosity. And his anthemic tweet “Ultimately, education has to be about kindness” reminds us that there is no room in critical pedagogy for fault-finding or censoring. We can think of critical pedagogy as “mission critical,” but in doing so we cannot allow our support of learners to become a dogma that hinders the learning experience — for students, our colleagues, or ourselves. There is a “kill the Buddha” sensibility to critical pedagogy; for Freire’s message to be taken seriously, we cannot uphold Freire as the patriarch of critical pedagogy. In fact, none of us can be that patriarch. None of us can be she-who-is-right-all-the-time.

We must stay aware of how we are telling and showing our critical pedagogies. Do our actions “coincide with those of the students to engage in critical thinking and the quest for mutual humanization”? (56) Do we imbue our efforts “with a profound trust in people and their creative power”? Or does our work in the classroom and the world attempt “to control thinking and action, lead[ing] women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibit[ing] their creative power”? (58) Do we practice critical pedagogy when talking about pedagogy?

In our opening week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy, we will discuss the real action of being a critical pedagogue in the world. Join us on January 21 at 5:00 PM EST for a Twitter chat using #MOOCMOOC. Check out worldtimebuddy.com to see when to join us in your time zone. And begin thinking about the following questions:

  • Is the primary effort of education bent toward the humanization of its participants (learners and educators alike)? If it is not, should it be? What does humanization look like as curricula, as syllabi, as lesson plan?
  • If it is not our task to “make deposits” into students’ minds, to reinforce learner passivity, but rather to spark inquiry, where is the best place to start?
  • How are we teaching, really, and how are we relating to the world, really? Do we walk the walk we want to walk, the walk we say we walk?
  • If, as Freire points out, the “teacher’s thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students’ thinking” (58), what process might we follow to foster authentic thinking — in the classroom as much as in professional spaces?

If you cannot join us for our synchronous chat, feel free to post your thoughts throughout the week on the #MOOCMOOC hashtag or in the comments below. We’ll also be curating highlights from the community’s blog responses on the MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy homepage, where you can also find the schedule for the rest of the MOOC.

Registration is not required for MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy. No personal data will be collected and everyone is welcome. However, if you’d like updates about the course, there are a few things you can do. First, follow @hybridped, @moocmooc, and #moocmooc on Twitter. And sign up for Hybrid Pedagogy’s e-mail list where we send updates about events (like MOOC MOOC) and digests of recently published articles.

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13 Responses

  1. I like that analogy. “Show, don’t tell” extends beyond fiction to teaching, and to life in general. Showing is more effective and convincing than telling. Actions speak louder than words. (But telling works pretty good sometimes. This will be on the quiz.)

    1. Lindsey Ehrhart

      Morris’ idea that educators, at times, are too ready to drag learners kicking and screaming into their own learning processes is true. Yet, I do believe that there is a constant change in the learning process. The primary effort of most is focused on the humanization of its participants rather than educators using the banking concept described by Freire. Communication and interaction between students and educators is a better approach to learning than is the receiving, filing, and storing of the banking concept. Despite the efforts of many educators seeking to have an approach other than “telling” students, I also believe that there are some that do not follow what the preach. Saying that “telling the learner is robbing them of their capacity for inquiry,” can sometimes be easier said than done. Therefore they are talking the talk but not walking the walk. For both the learner and the educator, it is a constant work in progress. I see this is the classrooms I sit in today. I personally see times in class where a teacher tells and we copy their words and other times where there is engagement and interaction in the classroom.

  2. In the old days critical theory saw the need for dialectics. Perhaps we see the need for a little of that here. Isn’t there a dialectic of showing and telling such that we can’t have one without the other. The need might be less evident in creative writing classes, surely it is evident elsewhere. If we ignore it, doesn’t critical pedagogy lose its political intention, and become little more than a therapy, clearing the space for a reassuring feeling of being active that remains unable to engage with what we were supposed to be acting upon.

    There is a certain undialectical one-sidedness in the idea that the oppressed students are oppressed because of the telling of teachers. There is another form of oppression that deserves more recognition than it is getting: the oppression that involves not being able to make sense of things, and of being unable to act, not because one has not been given the chance, but because if one cannot see a way forward, one has no clue how to act. There is no action without understanding. Camille Paglia once wrote a brilliant essay describing the absence of that understanding in the students coming to her classes.

    Show a scene of police brutality to students and what are they to make of it? Yes, of course, THEY must make something of it. But do they have a sufficiently sophisticated framework of understanding – the sort that Freire hoped that people would develop as they moved towards a grasp that the problem is not a few bad apples, but the entire systemic barrel? How are they to develop that? Is it to spring magically from their spontaneous activity in the generous atmosphere of the classroom? Does the teacher not need at least to suggest how things are to be understood, or point to texts that make that suggestion? That would be telling of a sort – a telling open to question; a telling presented as a telling of what is to be interrogated and assessed in the light of experience.

    An example: Show students a copy of Goya’s The Third of May 1808. What are they to make of it? There is a lantern in the centre shining a bright light. Will they just see a literal lantern? With a little telling, they might be able to see a reference to the Enlightenment, and if they are told enough about the Enlightenment and the debate that that provoked, they might be able to see an implicit critique in the painting, and understand how the painting engages with an entire system, not just with an isolated atrocity. And then they will be on the lookout for similar elements in other paintings elsewhere.

    If the aim is to help students think for themselves, then we may have to think beyond the binary of generous midwife and oppressive patriarch.

    1. Sandra Sinfield

      Critical Pedagogy in action in a typical university classroom does have to tackle the multiple tensions in, under and within which we all operate. Some tutors are more or less worried about line management, quality control, NSS, AWAMs and unrealistic workloads [and subsequent ever-diminishing morale] – or what they seem to be student-generated problems: the student as over-wheening consumer – the student as broken/lazy/a problem… Change is uncomfortable for staff and student alike – and what is an educational experience if it does not offer at least the potential of change? We hope that our module, ‘Becoming an educationalist’ , operates as a tool or lens with which to critique reductionist educational practice and that it creates space for students to narrate themselves as they become academic on their own terms – but – yes – the course does have a shape and structure that we the tutors devised… We are really interested in sharing practical examples of CP in action – and happy to offer our practice for discussion. Have blogged briefly about that here: http://lastrefugelmu.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/not-quite-moocmooc.html

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  6. “We judge from our pedagogical perspective the praxes of others. This is a ledge that we must all back away from.”

    Indeed. I do worry that the reductive system of grading of lessons by inspectors and in the observation processes of many organisations is a major driving force in this push towards judgement. Following inspections or in-house observations of teaching I so often hear colleagues using language such as “I got a 2” or “s/he’s really upset because s/he’s a 3”, thereby distilling the person’s whole practice (or even worse those of others) to an integer based on a summary judgement made of a snapshot in time.

    These numbers ‘stick’. They can destroy self-confidence and often diminish the drive to experiment, take risks and ‘play’ in the classroom. They are a blunt tool which pushes us closer towards the ledge. I worry that far too many judgements are not being made from the ‘pedagogical perspective’ mentioned above but from comparison of performance against arbitrary checklists which have no hope of capturing the nuance of creative teaching.

  7. Emma McLaughlin

    Using critical pedagogy would attract more students to want to learn and to be taught, instead of just brushing off everything they learn. Students are not just objects for the teachers, they are the future of this world and need to be recognized and acknowledged. Students or “learners” must be open-minded though and want to engage in what the teachers are “teaching”. Critical pedagogy is a way of getting both the teachers and learners to be on the same terms and not forcing anything upon one another, allowing everyone to have their own opinions, and their own way of learning.

  8. Steven L. Berg

    Question number three brings up good points, but rewording it to say “what should we be teaching” instead of “how are we teaching” makes the question easier for students to discuss. This small change will encourage more in depth responses from students.

    We will work on this revised question and get back to you after we have had more time to consider it more and to finish reading *Pedagogy of the Oppressed.*

  9. mario tiseo

    Our current educational system does have flaws. In which some students will not succeed. But the majority of students will succeed. So what about the few who don’t? Using critical pedagogy would help those who fail in our current educational system. But no system is perfect, which is why we can’t completely swap our current educational system for this one.

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