I’m writing this post to clarify my thinking on critical pedagogy after a discussion based PGCERT session on critical digital pedagogy at Goldsmiths. The session was OK but I felt like I needed to discuss some key concepts like the banking model of education at the beginning of the session with the participants and have a more focused small group discussion. We had quotes from some articles on critical digital pedagogy as prompts for the discussion but I quickly realized that I had too many quotes (about 7-8) and they weren’t easy to relate to perhaps because all of them were posing questions/making statements in the abstract. This made me question the content I have chosen for this session and my overall approach to introducing folks to critical pedagogy.
So where to start if you don’t know much about critical pedagogy? I guess most of us, well at least me, turn to the works of seminal scholars like Henry Giroux, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Ira Shor, Michael Apple, etc. to learn about the approach. (It is, by the way, interesting to see that Shor and Freire refer to the approach as transformative pedagogy, experimental pedagogy, radical pedagogy, or even democratic pedagogy in a spoken book, and I counted only two mentions of critical pedagogy.) Anyway, going back to the heart of critical pedagogy, working in collaboration with students for social justice, means that you first recognize that there is a good deal of injustice, inequality, and simply ugliness happening in educational spaces. Understanding how power plays out in the society in terms of color of skin, ethnicity, gender, class and so on is a never ending process and recognizing that this is actually happening everywhere on a daily basis is transformative – you can never look at the world in the same way after you start seeing the power structures in the society.
But I believe we need more contemporary scholars who are able to bridge the gap between theory, personal experience and the current conditions of education, which of course may not be the same for everyone. The language of critical pedagogy is heavy and discussions in this arena are full of jargon that are difficult for a lot people to understand, as some participants rightly commented in the session. We don’t just need theory, the theorization of education, we need examples from real-life practice, and lots! We need teachers who openly share their experiences doing critical pedagogy, in online or face-to-face spaces. Something as simple as: this is what we did in class, this is what happened, this is why I think it didn’t/did work. Maha Bali is a great example, a great thinker/teacher, who does that. Maha says,
“It is one thing to read about critical pedagogy in the abstract, but I believe there is much more to learn from contextual understandings of how the philosophy of critical pedagogy works in practice.”
This is a view I now fully embrace. Shor and Freire’s talking book the Pedagogy of Liberation is great because critical pedagogy is contextualized as they both give examples from their practice. bell hooks also gives plenty of examples from her practice in her books. But still, it’s not like hearing from a colleague about what works and what doesn’t, what worked and what didn’t. We don’t even have enough examples to decide if this is something that actually works in class (I mean in formal learning spaces online and face-to-face) across different disciplines.
So what I’d like to ask is, what is your experience of critical pedagogy? How do you go about it in class? What works and what doesn’t? If you could share a comment here or send me a link to a blog post, I would love to collect some examples from practice and perhaps turn them into an edited book in the future, of course with your permission and in collaboration with you!