Brief Encounters with Accidental Pedagogues: A #digped Chat

“I am not alone. There are accidental pedagogues everywhere, teachers without classrooms who left the academy but kept their ears and eyes open for when a discussion of a new future for higher education might take place . . . And their minds are full of ideas.” ~ Sean Michael Morris

Critical pedagogy is everywhere, or at least it should be. It does not come prepackaged for the classroom or only affect teachers and students. Regardless of context, there remains space for critical pedagogy. It’s there in administrative offices, libraries, and interface design. However, if that space goes unused, the emptiness lingers there, waiting to be filled. And too often that space is filled with something awful.

Audrey Watters recently announced at University of Mary Washington that “there’s a problem with computer technology.” And she reminded her audience that not only is there a problem, but as a woman in the industry, she has received death threats for saying so. Somehow, we continue to occupy a world that responds to this message with something other than outrage.

Feminist activists Jennifer Baumgardener and Amy Richards once wrote that “when you yourself embody your activist values, then every space that you inhabit — from the ice-cream shop to the dentist’s office to a seat on the subway — has the potential to become an activist space” (Grassroots). I believe the same is true of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is built from the ground up. Paulo Freire founded his theories through working with Brazilian peasants. He believed you had to be able to read the world before you could read the word, and I do too. We need to build the movement in libraries, offices, and even our homes.

I fear, however, that the world is in short supply of critical pedagogy. This is not to say there isn’t a lot of people doing good, critical work. There are. But unfortunately, there’s even more people doing careless work, perpetuating and reinforcing systems of control and domination. Sometimes, these are the people who issue death threats. More often, however, they are our neighbors, friends, and colleagues — ordinary people too tired or too focused on their own struggles to recognize the shared struggles of those around them. Yet it is from that same population that I meet some of the best accidental pedagogues, people who have no stake in the education industry but have read enough of the world to know that something is broken.

Critical pedagogy is the practice of listening to all people.

This article is an invitation to be an accidental pedagogue. Embracing critical pedagogy in the classroom is not enough; I want to see parents bringing these practices into their homes. I expect corporations to implement critical pedagogy in their training programs and I hope beyond hope that children from a very young age are able to experiment with these critical faculties on the playgrounds and among their friends. Look at the world as a classroom, one that has become misshapen by racism, sexism, and classism. I want to see death threats replaced with empathy, with understanding.

Critical pedagogy is not to be hidden away in our syllabi, scribbled in the margins of lecture notes as an afterthought, or meant to serve as the subject of some research project. It isn’t a complicated set of rules to apply to students. It is a space we inhabit and values to which we adhere. Always. It is a commitment to seeing beyond the immediate impact, the surface details, of an action or event. And it is a process through which our collective liberation can be won.

If you have ever felt that lump rise in the back of your throat, or slammed your fist down after witnessing a tragedy or discovering its aftermath, you have had the impulse to practice critical pedagogy. If you have ever been the victim of inequality, injustice, or oppression, then you are its subject. Critical pedagogy is not only a philosophy, it is a social movement — a means of naming and dismantling the systems that oppress us.

Join us in raising our voices.

On Friday, December 5, at 12:00 pm EST, the greater Hybrid Pedagogy community will gather on Twitter via #digped to show our support of accidental pedagogues. Check out to see when to join us in your time zone. Below are a few questions to consider coming into the conversation:

  • In what ways have critical theories of race, class, sex, etc. influenced how you perceive students, children, or even strangers?

  • What are some of the experiences outside of the academy that shape our behaviors within education, personally and systemically? Think of concrete realities and how certain environments may impacts our range of possible options. What frames our perceptions of the world?

  • In what ways can we commit to practices informed by critical pedagogy? Where are the unused spaced? Where is there the greatest need for critical pedagogues?

  • Who are the accidental pedagogues, and what can they teach us?

If you have suggestions for future topics, tweet them to @adamheid or @hybridped.

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