1.7.3 Critical Theory: Freire's Critical Pedagogy and 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
This scenario explores ideas connected to Freire's critical pedagogy, and suggests how some of the ideas associated with this theorist - as discussed in the main body of the chapter above - can be brought into the classroom in certain contexts. It should be noted that the teacher here is put in something of an awkward position. Many educators are passionate about not only their subject, but in education as an aspect of people's political and social lives, and as such they keep themselves informed about developments in their sector, in the curriculum, and about wider debates which relate the functions, purposes, and values of education to their own contexts as well as to those of others. Though there may be occasions where the debating of such issues with learners may be appropriate, there may also be many situations where it is impolitic to express opinions with learners that might sow seeds of doubt in the education being offered for them, or the ways in which that education might be serving interests other than those of the learners. If the educator has issues with what they are teaching, how that teaching is being delivered, or in other contextual situations, then there perhaps needs to be debate outside the classroom rather than within it.
That said, critical pedagogy offers ways to not only critique the existing curricular offer, and the setting within which that curriculum is delivered, but also offers a framework within which to explore issues related teaching and learning - and the material conditions within which such teaching and learning is offered locally and nationally - so that these kinds of issues can not only be aired publicly, but so that where it is practicable to do so, that improvements may be made. Many settings offer a range of ways in which such debates might be constructed: there may be staff representative councils, trades unions with regular meetings, perhaps committees with input into school policies also. This scenario suggests that there is a regular (monthly) debating group of staff which meets after hours to have a means of discussing critical matters which do not often get aired during the workday. Members of the group - which has a social as well as a political function - take turns to chair these meetings; your turn has come around again and so you will be leading the discussion in the next meeting.
Task: Considering Freire's ideas about critical pedagogy, how would you approach this?
Some things to consider: what topics would you focus on raising, drawing on your understanding from the module - and your wider reading - on critical pedagogy? Beyond that, are there issues or situations which you feel require bringing to the debating table but which do not fit into the critical pedagogy paradigm as you understand it? If so, what are these points?
Critical pedagogy, as the main body of the chapter indicates, offers a means by which to critique and explore the exercise of power as it is used within and through your setting. Your debate may range from broad philosophical points about the nature of compulsory learning within capitalist and other contexts, to specific points about policy and practice in the setting itself. You may find through the debating that there are links to be drawn between the broader political, social, and cultural contexts of your educational setting and the minutiae of strategical and operational practice within the setting itself. To what extent, for example, does your setting work to support its learners needs, or to what extent does it assume or dictate what those needs are and work towards those agendas instead? Are there unconscious or overt biases in policy or practice which have the effect of stigmatising, marginalising or otherwise impacting negatively on some learners at the expense of others?
Organisations often like solutions. So, can you take your debating to the next stage: to move from identifying and exploring issues and their ramifications through debate, can you detail workable answers to the questions which have been raised? A classic negotiation tactic is to arrive with both the problem and a solution at the same time; this can support a preferred option being adopted in fixing the issue that has been identified.
In the debate, is there a sense of commonality from the participants? If there is agreement that there are certain structural or operational issues with the setting when it is critiqued from a critical pedagogy perspective, then this can not only support the idea that this issue is widely-felt, but that there is some urgency in dealing with the matter in a constructive way. Naturally, there is perhaps little one can realistically do in addressing wider structural conditions related to inequalities in education alone, but there may well be changes which can have a meaningful impact that can be effected locally. So, what are those solutions, and to what extent will they make education in the setting a more equal, fair, and learner-centric offering?
The critical pedagogy perspective offers ways to unpick the assumptions and biases within which education operates; it is unlikely that all teachers will have the same opinions on what is right and what is appropriate for the students with which they work, but all should be motivated by an appreciation for learning, for the development of learners to their maximum potential, and to the provision of a fair and equitable experience for all. Such considerations perhaps extend beyond political affiliations and even philosophical approaches to education. This is by no means to say that all educators will accord with Freire's ideas, and may indeed be repelled by some of them, but that is not necessarily to doubt their commitment as educators to learners, their setting, or to their subject. In addition, it is perfectly feasibly to be critical in an intellectual and positive manner without indulging - or allowing others to indulge - in petty point-scoring, in grumbling for the sake of it, or in needlessly personalising issues which might not be appropriately reduced to the level of personalities. Balance, as ever, is everything; the focus should always be on continuing personal and professional development, and on a learner-centric and equality-minded ethic.
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