MMCP: The “Critical” in Critical Pedagogy

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 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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