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Seeking to dialogue with critical teachers in public schools everywhere!

Seeking to dialogue with critical teachers in public schools everywhere!

Hello Everyone!

This is the first post of this blog, so let me tell you what it’s about.  I’m here to meet, discuss, learn, and connect with public school teachers who use their teaching as a political act, whatever that means to them.  As a teacher, you may or may not know of the field of “Critical Pedagogy”, the philosophy of Paulo Freire and Critical Theory, or even what pedagogy means.  I get that.  I don’t judge someone based on that. To me, looking down on anyone for what they don’t know about, or for spelling or grammar, etc.,  is just another way of dominating people based on a selected knowledge. I don’t think that’s fair.  Many of my friends and family sometimes ask me to remind them what “pedagogy” means specifically when the topic of my research comes up.  It’s not a word that is used often.  Or, perhaps you who are reading this now have a deep understanding of Freire, McLaren, Kincheloe, Anyon, Apple, hooks, Bartolome, Macedo, Aronowitz, et al. My point is: No matter what your understanding of Critical Pedagogy as an academic field, if you consider yourself a teacher who teaches in a public school school about/for/through “social justice”, from a problem-posing, inductive approach as a way to “push back”, I would love to dialogue with you!

With that in mind, critical teachers, I would like to like to ask you: How did you come to teach the way you do?  How, specifically, do you teach in a way inspired by “Critical Pedagogy”? What obstacles have you encountered? How have you managed those difficulties?  What sustains you in your teaching critically?

Those are the basic questions around which I’m seeking to generate understanding.  I will tell you a bit about myself, since it’s only fair.  I grew up in the public schools in my area. I hated school for the most part, for a lot of reasons.  I remember teachers, however, who inspired me to question and who themselves seemed to retain some measure of light in an otherwise dismal institutional setting. I later became a public school teacher, much to my surprise.  I remember feeling uncanny walking back into a high school building for work as a teacher in New York City at 23 years old.  As a teacher, I was as far from perfect as one can be, especially starting out.  As the years progressed, I tried to be more reflective about my own teaching and position of power–honestly I was extremely uncomfortable being the authority, that discomfort never faded.  But I would talk openly with my students about political issues, religion, whatever they wanted to discuss.  And because my students and I had relationships of trust I didn’t lie to them about my own views, or pretend to be “objective”. They always saw right through me anyway. But in being clear that my feelings and opinions were just that, I provided them with transparency, for only they could decide their stance on whatever issue was present in our minds, whether the Iraq war of 2003, President Obama’s election in 2008, or the 2016 election.  I became a teacher because I felt that it was a path to having an influence on the world for good.  Interacting and dialoguing with young people about important issues, rather than teaching from a scripted curriculum for example, could make school into a force for good, in my mind.

And that’s just it, I think.  Schools are both dismal and illuminating, socially reproductive of conformity and resistance.  Who was it, Hegel? Nietzsche?, who said that everything contains the seed of its own destruction?  As much as schools produce a class-stratified society (where the poor kids stay poor and the rich kids stay rich), they also produce a consciousness that resists the status quo–and perhaps they do just that by remaining splintered, scattered, covert. I’d like to know more, and to do that, of course, I need to connect with those people out there in schools.

After 8 years as a pubic school teacher, I felt I couldn’t make the change I wanted from within the system and survive emotionally at the same time, so I left teaching for a job at a University, where I’m also a Ph.D. student.  I love my work and study at my University, as my research is progressing to a dissertation (Spring 2018) on the subject I’ve just described above: Critical teachers in public schools.  This blog is not intended as research, but rather as a personal exploration of my topic. To my readers: Once I begin my research I may seek your informed consent to participate.

Well, this post has gotten rather lengthy! I’ll wrap it up.  If you’re still reading this, please comment, subscribe, dialogue–and Thank you!

 

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On reading Freire

I’m spending the Summer reading for comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. focusing on critical pedagogy.  Today, I read the short book, “Education for Critical Consciousness” by Paulo Freire.  In these posts, I’d like to just briefly comment on parts of my readings that inspire me, and hope you comment on them too.

I feel I’m in conversation with the authors as I read them.  Today Paulo told me: “Education is an act of love, and thus an act of courage. It cannot fear the analysis of reality or, under pain of revealing itself as a farce, avoid creative discussion” (34).  I have heard this quote repeated and seen it replicated in conversation and on social media; usually, the quote ends at “act of love”.  It makes education seem all touchy feely.  It re-inscribes the common myth that teachers are self-less, magnanimous martyrs, or they should be in order to be good teachers.  Yes, teachers are extremely giving for the most part, but they are professionals, not volunteers.  Too often I hear people say, “Oh you’re a teacher? Wow. Thank you”.  As much as I appreciate the sentiment behind comments like these, they have a hint of condescension.  Yes, teachers are shamefully underpaid, intentionally so.  But to portray teachers as merely selfless and loving is an insult to their need for a quality of life and professional respect.  And, moreover, education is hard.  I often think of the connection between discomfort and learning—how often we must go beyond our comfort zone to have truly memorable experiences.  Furthermore, love is hard.  We are often the most brutal and honest—sometimes regrettably—with the people we most love.  If education is an act of love, it is the “strong, demanding” love articulated by Dr. King, not the commodified hippie logo.

But what gets lost in the appreciation of this quote is the remaining part that deals with courage and the bravery to subject one’s self to critique, to see a painful truth, and perhaps that possibility that that truth reveals ourselves as complicit in a dehumanizing system that equates knowledge with test scores, truth with “work” and eduction with schooling.  How often do teachers fear loss of face in front of their class?  Why does our common understanding of “education” mean authoritarianism, where a teacher is defined by “knowing all the answers”?  What does it take for a teacher to sit at eye-level with students and value their questions, concerns and ability to reason independently?

This reminds me of Paulo’s discussion of theory.  “Our education”, he writes, “was not theoretical…I was concerned…to rid our education of its wordiness, its lack of faith in the student and his power to discuss, to work, to create” (33). Critical pedagogy is a different paradigm completely—one that radically re-defines commonsense understandings of knowledge, teaching, learning, truth, culture and authority.  It is neither liberal nor conservative.  Critical pedagogy critiques the liberal view of schooling as equalizing and egalitarian, as well as the conservative view of “high culture”, accountability and standardization—generally the entire neoliberal project that subjects everything to the market place and the demands of capital.  Perhaps that is another blog post altogether.