Critical Pedagogy

This week in class we discussed critical pedagogy. Now, the fact that I am in the social sciences and in a department that has a few critical theorist scholars needs to be kept in mind with what I have to say about all of this.

When I first had to write my teaching philosophy in my master’s program, long before I had ever taught, I remember attempting to write about the desire of challenging student’s notions of how the world is structured and helping students think critically about topics. That is a rough approximation of what I wrote and what I was trying to get at. Then, last semester I started learning about feminist pedagogy, which is connected to critical pedagogy, and finally found some of the language for what I strive for in my classroom.

All of this is my own understanding of critical pedagogy and a bit of feminist pedagogy. With feminist pedagogy and critical pedagogy, there is a learner centered approach and more of an egalitarian classroom. It also acknowledges and understands the fact that we have diverse learning styles (multiple intelligences and neurodiversity). Our classrooms are not homogenous places. People have unique histories and different needs from us. This is part of why it was beautiful that we discussed diversity and inclusion last week and critical pedagogy this week!

Education can empower students to be critically engaged and active participants in society. This is in part by helping students analyze what they are learning and understanding what they believe. It can change their views of the world or help them solidify their beliefs and be able to argue why. They are Deconstructing received wisdom. Something some of the readings were getting at is that knowledge is a social construction. There is no “big T” truth; there are not truly facts without context. All knowledge is built and understood within the culture in which we live and work. We want students to be active agents in the world. If they are challenged to think outside of what is “common knowledge” then they can reflect on their beliefs in relation to others and gain a deeper understanding as to why they hold the understanding, beliefs, and values they have.

If we keep some of this in mind, we can have some dialogical exchanges between teacher and students, where everyone learns, questions, reflects, and participates in meaning making. We are all the learners and the teachers. One way this is done is through reflection. Reflecting on what is being done, on different so-called facts, etc. Taking the time to process what is being discussed and how it relates to you, your life, your beliefs. Sometimes that means rectifying old points of view with new ones. Sometimes that means questioning and reflecting on the nature of our historical and social position in order to effect change in society.

On Wednesday one of my group-mates asked us all about our favorite professor we’ve had. I always go back to a professor I had at Hollins. There were many great ones and I had a wonderful mentor there that helped me learn the ropes of research. However, there was one that changed my world and how I thought about the world. In many ways I was terrified of this professor—she had extremely high expectations of students, but we all wanted to reach her expectations. She challenged us and turned our views on their side to make us figure out why we believed what we did. I am not sure if she would say that her teaching philosophy is based on critical pedagogy (though I would say it is a safe bet to say that she would claim feminist pedagogy). Maybe that is part of why I strive for this sort of philosophy, because it changed me so much.

I am not sure how well I do any of this. It is a high ideal and one that can be difficult to do. For some of the classes I teach it’s easier than others. I was observing one of my colleagues yesterday who is teaching the same thing I am just in class rather than online and I kept thinking how hard it can be to challenge people’s thinking in class and one relatively uncontroversial as child development. So far, I find it easier for online classes than seat based. I think primarily because students can reflect and process everything in their own time and in their own space without 80 of their peers watching and potentially judging. It may feel less like the instructor is forcing their views on them (as it unfortunately can sometimes come across). As an instructor, I can also see where students are at in their thinking a little clearer because they are forced to think about topics and write about them more often. Looking back at teaching online, these are some of the reasons I actually appreciate teaching in that medium.

How do you think you are using critical pedagogy in your own classrooms? Are you? If you want to have a critical pedagogy philosophy, how might you use it in your class?

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